Keratosis pilaris is a common, benign skin condition that causes small, painless bumps and rough patches, usually on your arms, thighs and buttocks. Often referred to as "chicken skin," keratosis pilaris is noncontagious. MayoClinic.com notes that keratosis pilaris often appears in young children, and usually disappears by age 30. In the meantime, keratosis pilaris can be unsightly, unpleasant to the touch and difficult to treat. Doctors sometimes prescribe topical salicylic acid to alleviate symptoms of keratosis pilaris.
Keratosis Pilaris Features
Keratosis pilaris most commonly appears on the backs and upper sides of arms, with red or whitish bumps, or papules, and patches of dry, rough skin. According to Keratosis Pilaris Help, the condition is very common, affecting 40 to 50 percent of the adult population worldwide. University of Maryland Medical Center notes that the disorder results from a buildup of keratin, which forms hard plugs in hair follicles. The cause is unknown, but genetics may play a role. All types of keratosis pilaris tend to improve in the summer.
Keratosis Pilaris Types
There are several types of keratosis pilaris. In keratosis pilaris alba, the main symptom is dry and bumpy skin, while in keratosis pilaris rubra the papules are reddened and inflamed. Keratosis pilaris rubra faceli appears on the face and can cause a reddish rash that makes you look flushed. MayoClinic.com says that this type of keratosis pilaris can resemble acne but differs from it in the smaller size of the bumps and general dryness of the skin.
Salicylic Acid Treatment
Your doctor may recommend salicylic acid to relieve your keratosis pilaris by helping to moisturize and soften your skin. According to Drugs.com, salicylic acid is a keratolytic -- or peeling agent-- used in the treatment of acne, dandruff, corns, warts, and other skin conditions (see References 2). The topical treatment is available in pads or wipes, patches, creams, lotions and gels.
Before you apply salicylic acid topically, Drugs.com advises gently cleaning and drying the affected area first and then applying the treatment exactly as instructed on the label. Don't use other topical skin medications -- such as tretinoin or medicated cosmetics -- on your keratosis pilaris unless your doctor tells you to; these may interfere with the salicylic acid, or cause inflamed skin. The website adds that you shouldn't use harsh soaps, abrasive agents, products with alcohol or other peeling agents while treating with salicylic acid.
Precautions and Side Effects
Medline Plus warns that you should avoid getting salicylic acid in your eyes, nose or mouth; flush with water for 15 minutes if this happens. Drugs.com advises avoiding using it on moles and birthmarks, as well as on broken skin or on the genital or anal area. You may experience peeling, stinging, redness and irritation after using salicylic acid topical; call your doctor if these symptoms are troublesome. Medline Plus warns that an allergic reaction can occur, causing shortness of breath, closing of the throat, hives and swelling of the face, lips and tongue. Seek emergency care if this happens. The website advises calling your doctor immediately if you experience severe headache, rapid breathing, dizziness, confusion, fatigue, hearing loss, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Don't use salicylic acid without consulting your doctor.