Goosebumps occur when the arrector pili muscles cause the hairs to stand up, making the skin look bumpy.
When the hairs stand up on the skin, it is known as piloerection. The
This article looks at some causes, symptoms, and prevention methods that healthcare professionals associate with goosebumps.
Goosebumps appear when the arrector pili muscles contract, pulling the hairs into an upright position.
On areas of the body that do not have much hair or that only have light hair, a person might notice only the erect hair follicle and not the hair itself.
Erect hair follicles look swollen and slightly bigger than usual. This enables them to hold the hair upright, and it also causes goosebumps.
A number of specific factors can give rise to goosebumps. These include:
Chills and cold
Goosebumps play an essential role in the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. Other mammals, including humans’ primate ancestors, have thick hair that keeps them warm. When the hair stands up, it offers more insulation.
Many people notice goosebumps when they are cold. They may also appear when someone thinks about being cold, such as when they witness a cold scene in a movie.
Some people also get goosebumps when they have chills that they associate with an illness or fever.
Emotionally intense experiences
Some emotionally intense experiences cause the body to release certain chemicals that can trigger goosebumps.
Adrenaline, a chemical that the body releases as part of its fight-or-flight response, can trigger goosebumps. For this reason, many people notice goosebumps when watching a scary movie, experiencing a distressing event, or when they are anxious about something.
Likewise, intensely pleasurable experiences, such as
Certain drugs may also cause goosebumps. For example, a 2016 study identified two sisters who experienced goosebumps after taking a medication called milnacipran hydrochloride.
Taking drugs that stimulate activity similar to those chemicals in the body that normally cause goosebumps may also trigger the phenomenon. For example, a person experiencing an adrenaline-like rush when using methamphetamine may also have goosebumps.
Withdrawal from some drugs, such as opioids, may also cause goosebumps.
Scientists generally agree that, in normal circumstances, goosebumps are involuntary. This is because the arrector pili muscles, which cause goosebumps, are smooth muscles.
People cannot typically control smooth muscles, unlike skeletal muscles, which they voluntarily use, for example, to move their legs and flex their arms.
However, there is some limited evidence to suggest that a small number of people may be able to exert control over the arrector pili muscles. This enables them to trigger goosebumps voluntarily.
After a person dies, the chemical adenosine triphosphate, which provides the energy to cells, depletes, and lactate builds up in the muscles. This process causes the muscles to stiffen, thereby triggering rigor mortis.
As part of rigor mortis, the arrector pili muscles also stiffen, giving rise to goosebumps.
Keratosis pilaris (KP) is a skin condition that causes portions of the skin to resemble goosebumps. It occurs when dead skin cells clog the hair follicles, forming tiny bumps. The skin may also be red, itchy, and dry.
KP is harmless, but many people dislike its appearance.
Goosebumps do not cause KP, but it is possible to mistake one for the other.
The primary symptom of goosebumps is bumpy skin. Many people notice these bumps most prominently on their arms. Goosebumps can also appear on the legs and trunk but do not appear as noticeably on the face.
Some other symptoms a person may notice alongside goosebumps include:
- hair that stands up
- skin that suddenly looks hairier
- feeling cold
- shaking or trembling
- intense emotions
Some people may develop other symptoms related to the cause of their goosebumps. For example, a person experiencing opioid drug withdrawal may also feel nauseous or anxious.
Similarly, people who get goosebumps when they are anxious may feel panicked or restless. Some develop anxiety about the goosebumps, or they may worry that other people will judge them for their goosebumps.
Goosebumps are not a medical disease. They do not require treatment, and no treatment can completely prevent a person from getting goosebumps.
That said, people who feel self-conscious about goosebumps or want to avoid them can reduce their frequency by:
- wearing warm clothing, especially when it is is cool outside
- avoiding drafts and heavy air conditioning
- remaining calm during stressful or emotionally intense situations
- avoiding illegal drugs
The right treatment can help manage the symptoms of keratosis pilaris. Some strategies that may help include:
- regularly moisturizing the skin with a thick moisturizing cream
- using chemical exfoliators, such as lactic acid or salicylic acid, to remove dead skin
- trying laser treatment, if other strategies do not work
Goosebumps are an involuntary reaction to certain kinds of stimulation. Although a small handful of cases suggests that some people can control their goosebumps reaction, goosebumps are not usually voluntary.
The presence of goosebumps with piloerection on the skin tends to suggest that a person is cold, scared, or having an emotionally intense experience.
Piloerection also signals that the body’s response to cold is working correctly. Rarely, a person’s body might perceive cold even when the temperature is normal, or they may develop goosebumps in other unusual circumstances.
Neurological, endocrine, or other systemic issues may cause this symptom, so people should see a doctor for any unusual or worrisome goosebumps.