Fighting Keratosis Pilaris on my Face

The Diagnosis

After using the olive oil cleansing method for years and years, I noticed that I was getting what I thought were acne breakouts along my jaw line, forehead, and on both temples. I switched to Coconut Oil, then integrated Tea Tree Oil, and Miracle Salve. I would see some improvement, but it wouldn’t ever completely clear up. After chatting with a dermatologist, I finally understood that what was going on with my face wasn’t, actually acne at all, but Keratosis Pilaris.

Great, fantastic. I have that on the back of my upper legs, though mine isn’t very textbook. I don’t have the reddish patches, and it doesn’t affect my upper arms like it does for many. I just get bumps. Bumps that can actually be popped, but not in a typical pimple kind of way. What’s inside is a waxy kind of plug, no pus, nothing runny or oozy. It’s kind of amazing I didn’t make the connection, that what I battle on my legs could actually be affecting my face — but when you read about Keratosis Pilaris (KP for short) usually only the commonly affected areas are discussed (upper arms and upper legs).

Fun Facts about Keratosis Pilaris

KP is a common genetic follicular condition where my skin produces too much keratin. The excess keratin, which is cream colored, surrounds and entraps the hair follicles in the pore. This causes the formation of hard plugs (process known as hyperkeratinization). You can end up with ingrown hairs (the plugs trap the hair) but the trapped hairs are a side effect, not the cause of the bumps. I can’t find any research on it, but I theorize that those who make this excess keratin also have fast-growing, thick, healthy hair and nails. That’s true for me at least, so silver lining?

Treatment for KP on the Face

First of all, there is no cure. If you’re one of the lucky 40 – 50% who battle with Keratosis Pilaris, congrats. You’re basically in for a long, continuous fight, until old age takes over and your body lays off the excess keratin production.

Instead of trying to treat what I thought was a super frustrating case of adult acne, I’ve now switched gears.

treating keratosis pilaris on face

  1. I wash morning and night with Dr. Bronner’s Hemp Tea Tree Pure Castile Soap.
  2. The dermatologist recommended a Clarisonic scrubbing device, but I couldn’t afford it. I am using the Olay Face Scrubber instead, it is lovely, I can only imagine how much nicer the Clarisonic would be. I lather up the Tea Tree soap and use the scrubber to massage my entire face, paying special attention to KP areas.
  3. After scrubbing, I gently pop (yes! pop!) any KP bumps that look poppable. They are not like liquidy, pussy pimples that will go away if you leave them alone. If you get a raised bump, it’s going to hang out for the duration, the waxy plug can even collect dirt and turn black on the tip — just lovely. The plugs can also irritate the skin and cause an infection (what I thought were cystic acne before were just inflamed pores trying unsuccessfully to fight off the KP plugs. Nice). So popping can be kind of important. I am gentle, though I’ve never had a problem with scarring on my face.
  4. Next, I dab on some liquid Tea Tree Oil and/or Lavender Oil on any popped-areas to help speed the healing process.
  5. Finally, I moisturize with lotion containing either urea or lactic acid. Right now I’m using Ammonium Lactate Lotion 12% which has the exact same ingredients as the more expensive, oft recommended AmLactin Lotion. It stings just a bit going on, but isn’t bad, in only stings for a second or two. It is not perfumed and can taste bitter if I get it too close to my lips, but it doesn’t smell bad or anything.

Treating KP on my legs

eucerin-urea-keratosis-pilarisIn years past, I used a Paula’s Choice lotion specially formulated for KP on the backs of my legs. It worked wonderfully, and I had a couple of really great swim suit seasons not worried about what the backs of my thighs looked like. But! It’s crazy expensive, and since my legs are much longer than most, I went through it fast. I switched to Eucerin Cream with Urea (it’s hard to find! It’s not the regular Eucerin cream, you have to find the kind with 5% Urea in it), and it works just as well on my legs. Seems too heavy for the face, though maybe it would be fine because…

KP is not a clogged pore problem in the traditional sense where you have dirt, oil, makeup, etc. clogging the pore from the outside. My body is clogging up the pore from the inside so it’s a different battle. The dermatologist agreed that my years of cleansing with olive or coconut oil probably helped keep the top part of the plugs dissolved from the surface, and guessed that maybe recent stressors in my life (work, age, health) overwhelmed the method or perhaps my skin just grew tired of the treatment. I would still recommend cleansing with olive or coconut oil for typical acne problems.

I still use Miracle Salve around my eye area, and so far the new regime is going well. I’m mid-lady-cycle (oversharing online since 2002!) and my skin hasn’t had any major flareups or infections, and there’s a big improvement in softness and a decrease in ‘poppable’ bumps every day. I had nothing to pop last night, it was almost weird!

Etcetera

Scouring the interwebs for information on KP, there are a lot of different methods and expensive creams to try. If you accept that it’s probably never going to go away, I think managing it is pretty simple, really. Use a good-for-you facial cleanser like Tea Tree Oil soap that doesn’t have a bunch of junk in it like parabens. We’re taught from our prepubescent years to fear anything that’s going to clog our pores, you have to stop thinking along those lines when you’re dealing with KP. Moisturizing is KEY. And moisturizing with something that will help clear up those clogs is important. Urea and Lactic Acid have both worked really well for me. I haven’t had ANY luck with salicylic acid. It seems to dry up the surface of my skin into flakes without touching the bumps.

I don’t drink soda, juice, or even milk. I don’t drink alcoholic beverages, coffee, or tea. I drink water. Water, water, water. Everything I read on this skin condition emphasizes water. That’s because your skin can moisturize itself from the inside out as long as you aren’t dehydrated. So drink up.

I read somewhere that Apple Cider Vinegar is really great for your skin. My goats sure like it poured into their water. I couldn’t make myself take a spoonful every day, so I’m trying these ACV tablets. I do think it helps, I might be crazy, but I also think my digestion has improved with these.

In closing

Ha ha. I never know how to end these informational type, boringish posts. So if you read this, I assume it’s because you’re dealing with something similar. Thanks for sitting through it, and I hope you found something helpful!

Have a great weekend!

Update

01/24/13 This worked, and cleared up most of the bumps. The Amlactin got a little harsh, so I switched back to the above linked Miracle Salve for a moisturizer. I’ve continued to use the Olay face brush thingie, and Dr. Bronner’s soap, and it’s working well, my face is smooth again!

Comments

  1. Sara says

    Dry skin brushing will really help the KP on the body, but I don’t think it’s recommended for the face. KP can definitely be an annoyance! Thanks for the post.

    • Jessica says

      You know, it only made mine flare up worse. I think it’s maybe because I don’t have that typical red rashy look. So it just seemed to really irritate the bumps.

  2. Amber says

    Oh my baby has KP really bad! Any idea if these are safe for her (she’s almost 2) so far she is just affected on her arms and thighs.

  3. Keira says

    A has KP on her arms, and I’ve got them on my legs. We do the dry-rub too, or exfoliate gently. Good luck with the face! :c)

    • Jessica says

      I never had good luck with dry brushing or exfoliating with loofahs – it always caused more irritation. I have had good success on my legs with these scrubby washcloths I found at Freddies, though. If I use the tea tree soap with it, it seems to help without causing inflammation.

  4. Ruth says

    I have that on my arms and thighs. I just never knew it was an actual problem with a name and a treatment! Thanks for enlightening me and for the tips.
    I think my 8-year-old might have that on his face, too. He has tiny pimple-looking bumps on his face and won’t let me anywhere near them. I’ll have to point it out to the doctor the next time we go.

    • Jessica says

      Hey sure! Once I finally made the face connection, I found lots more to read about it, I guess it’s not that uncommon, and is almost always confused for acne.

  5. Ginger says

    My kids were born with it and I used Nioxin. They now use cetaphil for cleansing and face pads containing salicylic acid on the affected areas. QVC offers the Clairosinic on easy pay. It is so fabulous that my dad even uses it!! I use olive oil mixed with a small amount of mineral oil to cleanse my face. Do you think this is what triggered your body to have this reaction?

      • Jessica says

        What is Nioxin? All I can find on it is a hair thinning product?

        I like Cetaphil, I used it for years before I switched to olive oil. I still like it for camp trips since you can rub it on and wipe it off without any water.

        Dang it, we don’t have a QVC here! I keep thinking I’ll save up my Amazon affiliate payments, but it sounds like overseas knock offs are being sold on Amazon, and Clairsonic won’t honor the warranty there. Sigh.

        I’m really not sure – it could have been triggered by anything, maybe my recent health problems or something.

        • Ginger says

          Nioxin is a hair thinking product line. It cleans sebum out of the follicle so it is no longer clogged. It is used for that purpose on bed ridden patients with bed sores also!!
          Qvc is online too. I noticed the fish oil comment and have been giving that to my kids for 3 years due to the youngest demanding to be a vegetarian! Maybe that is what helped all along!

  6. Grandma Debbie says

    Of course, you read it if you are the mother of the blogger! So glad you’ve found a name for this condition that has bothered you for so many years on your legs … on your face! Not fair! xo

    • Jessica says

      Ha, sorry mom. It’s actually been rattling around in my head forever (saw Logan’s brother quite a while ago) and finally got the post written in increments.

  7. Rachel says

    Have you heard of taking fish oil for it?
    I recently read the book ” what’s eating your child” ( can’t remember the author right now).. And in it she discusses how KP is actually commonly caused by an essential fatty acid deficiency. She even mentions that in nutrition textbooks ( she’s a nutritionist) if you look up an EFA deficiency they talk about KP but in medical textbooks they never make the connection. My sons doctor told me he had eczema on the back of his arms but once I read about this I was pretty sure that’s what it was! We started taking fish oil and its mostly cleared up!

    • Jessica says

      I take fish oil every single day. A pretty large dose, but it hasn’t helped my skin much at all. The one thing nutrition wise that did clear it up, like completely GONE was when I was eating raw. But that cannot be a long term solution as it was so hard to get animal protein and fats… though I took fish oil throughout.

  8. Lora says

    A warning for those who, like me, might think “if some is good, more is better.” I saturated a few cotton balls with tea tree oil and held them over a cut that I was worried might be getting infected for about 30 or 40 minutes. Result: something like a chemical burn of my skin :-( . Yes, I felt some stinging, but I thought I’d just endure this b/c nasty bacteria were being killed. . . It ended up taking me longer to recover from the burn than from the cut.

  9. erin says

    Everything I’ve read about KP is a gluten intolerance. Taking out gluten (I think you are gf, correct?) might be something worth trying. Sorry about this. No fun!

  10. Heather Sanders says

    Not dealing with it, but I notice that Meredith has the red, rashy bumps on her upper arms. I love, love Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap. Jeff and I have one in the shower for our early mornings. I wish it didn’t disappear so fast thought because it is NOT cheap.

  11. Peace says

    I had a sty sort of thing in my eyelid recently that went in for over a month & the eye doctor recommended flaxseed oil instead of fish oil. He said patients who get them chronically because the body is producing excess sebum are finding great relief with flaxseed oil. Might be worth a shot if you aren’t on it already, sounds like related problems. I’ve had maybe 5 calzion/sty in 10 years, so it’s not too chronic. I have a skin thing for 20 years that no one has been able to diagnose, so I’m happy you figured yours out :-)

  12. Jennifer says

    Jess, I think we have the exact same skin except mine is olive. You battled urticaria and then I battled with cholinergic urticaria for over 2 yrs on my eyes and body. I have KP flareups, but I’ve noticed they tend to be hormone related. I read they usually appear during adolescence. I actually tend to get it on my bum, ugh. TMI. Anyho, I get it while PG and then battle it off and on until my hormones settle. My is the exact same as yours and yes I have super fast hair/nails growing type. We’re also graying the same way!, lol. I hemp it though honey, cause with a newborn, I don’t want to be mistaken for the Gword. If you have an asian market near, this product has worked for me for years and especially when I have kp flare-ups.
    http://www.amazon.com/Salux-Nylon-Japanese-Beauty-Cloth/dp/B000CSDDDG/ref=pd_sim_bt_6

  13. Tracey says

    Did you find that yours went away when you were pregnant? I have a very mild case and it totally disappeared when I was pregnant both times. I will have to try the AmLactin on it. I usually only use that stuff on my dry cracked heels.

    • Jessica says

      Oh hey! The dermatologist said dry, cracked heels is actually totally related. He thinks KP, eczema, and dry cracked heels are all siblings, or even part of the same thing. He never sees dry heels without either KP or eczema or both. Interesting, no? The only thing that works on my heels is this: Tweezerman Safety Slide Callus Shaver with Rasp (I never use the rasp). I gave up on trying to soften them with lotions.

      Anyway, you know, I don’t remember what happened with my face when I was pregnant. I was too wrapped up with other lovely pregnancy symptoms that I don’t have a single memory about my skin… I want to say that it probably cleared up, but I really couldn’t say. Hmmm! I’m scrolling through some cranky-faced belly shots and my skin looks clear. How interesting!

      • Tracey says

        Interesting. I have never thought about them being related. I don’t get KP on my chin but I do get small bumps on my forehead. Mine aren’t nearly as bad as yours though. If I just leave them alone they just kinda show as red bumps but never very big.

      • shannon says

        Well knock me with a feather and add me to the club. Didn’t know it had a name. It’s bad around my arms and the underskin practically turns purple in the winter.

        Sexy, hot tip for cracked heels- I bought a small stainless steel nutmeg zester. (you know, that bumpy side of the cheese grater you rarely use? well there is a $3 hand held version of that, I bought mine through frontier) and after shower or soak I will zest my poor rhino skin heels. If I do this often enough, they don’t split. Bonus, you can dishwasher that thing. Nasty side bar- do it over the tub or something because of the obvious. And it is a good lesson that ‘flesh stinks’

        If they get bad enough (read: when I ignore my feet) that they do start splitting… I will use shea butter and wrap the bad boys with saran wrap for a few hours or overnight. Otherwise it hurts to walk!

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