5 ‘Chicken Skin’ Treatments, Ranked in Order of Effectiveness

Chicken skin is a total tank-top season buzz kill. Keratosis pilaris (its fancy medical term) is a super common condition that plagues about 50 percent of us with stubborn bumps on the backs of our arms. And if you’ve tried to scrub them away, you know that's not the answer.

Keratosis pilaris emerges when keratin (one of the building blocks of your skin) is overproduced. The keratin then plugs up hair follicles, causing tough little bumps that can look red and rough in appearance to pop up. While most commonly occurring on the backs of arms, it can also form on the cheeks, thighs, and butt.

RELATED: 7 Types of Bumps and Blemishes You Should Never Ignore

The good news is that it’s a totally benign condition. The bad news is that it’s likely genetic and not related to anything you may or may not be doing—and that makes it tough to treat.

Still, there are things you can do to keep the bumps at bay. Here are five options, ranked from least effective to most.

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5. Eating Plenty of Omega-3s

What you eat can play a part in your skin’s inflammation levels, which can worsen or trigger conditions like chicken skin. Craig Austin, M.D., a New York City dermatologist, recommends staying away from dairy products if you’re prone to keratosis pilaris, as well as eating a fresh diet that hydrates skin from the inside out. Foods rich in omega-3s are essential for moisturization and healthy skin cell function. This includes walnuts, flaxseeds, salmon, tuna, sardines, and soybeans. Leafy greens are also always good to get in for overall skin health and function, adds Austin.

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4. Switching to Fragrance-Free Products

In some cases, keratosis pilaris is caused or exacerbated by wearing fragranced body products like lotions, creams, and perfume sprays, using scented soaps and body washes, and by showering with hot water, says Austin. Make sure your body care regimen is fragrance-free, and try to use the most lukewarm water possible for showers and baths. Also, keep bath time short (think: under seven minutes) so dehydration of skin is minimized.

RELATED: 5 Health Benefits of Taking a Cold Shower

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3/5 Photograph courtesy of Amlactin
3. Keratolyic Agents

We’ll have the doctor translate this one for you: “Keratolyic agents help remove keratin—or the scales that are blocking the follicles, causing the bumps to form,” says Austin. Products containing lactic acid, urea, and glycerin all perform this function and can be applied daily to prevent and treat the condition. Best yet, they’re super-gentle, so this is a great option if you have sensitive skin that is easily irritated. 

Try: Amlactin Fragrance-Free Moisturizing Body Lotion ($15, amazon.com)

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4/5 Photograph courtesy of Cane and Austin
2. Glycolic and Salicylic Acids

Chemical exfoliants that lift dead skin cells up are your BFFs, and Austin names salicylic and glycolic acids as being especially effective in working out those clogged follicles. For the thicker skin of your body, he recommends a concentration of 10 percent glycolic or more to see visible results quickly. Just bear this in mind: You need to be consistent with daily application to chase the bumps away and maintain results, he adds.

Try: Cane + Austin Face & Body Retexture Scrub ($42, caneandaustin.com); Paula’s Choice Resist Skin Revealing Body Lotion with 10 Percent AHA ($27, beauty.com)

RELATED: How to Exfoliate Every Single Body Part—the Right Way

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1. Prescription Retinoids

You may know that a script for a prescription retinoid like Retin-A is a go-to treatment for acne, and Austin says that the vitamin A derivative’s ability to increase cell turnover also allows younger skin to come up faster, so that bumps flatten out. Just remember that the final result takes patience; you must be on a retinoid for several weeks before you’re in the clear—but once you are, it’s smooth sailing!

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