While keratosis pilaris (KP) commonly appears on the back of the arms, it can occur anywhere, including the face. Treatment for KP on the face may require gentle exfoliators and creams.
A person may not like the way the bumps look, though, which could affect their self-esteem and body image. When this happens, there are various types of treatment available.
Self-treatment at home may focus on exfoliating and moisturizing the skin. If these do not have the desired effect, more intensive treatment options are available too.
Read on to learn more about keratosis pilaris face treatment.
Keratosis pilaris may improve on its own, even without treatment.
Recent research has not tested exact KP improvement rates. However, an older 1994 study examining the response of 49 people with KP to a questionnaire about their condition found the following:
35%saw improvements in their skin over time
- 43% continued to have symptoms
- symptoms seemed to worsen in 22%
The results of this study suggest that most people with KP may need some treatment to see improvements in their symptoms. For most, home treatments work well. These treatments focus on removing dead skin and keeping the skin moisturized through the use of exfoliating treatments and moisturizers.
People should avoid scratching the affected face area to prevent scarring or further irritation.
If home treatments do not have the desired effect, medical treatments — which tend to be more aggressive — are available.
KP occurs when dead skin cells clog the hair follicles, causing tiny lumps and bumps. Removing dead skin and keeping the skin moisturized usually helps.
There is no single best treatment that works for everyone. Instead, treatment starts with the least aggressive skin care options, then progresses to more intense medical treatments.
Skin care and hygiene
Basic skin care can sometimes prevent KP from getting worse.
- Use a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free soap.
- Avoid popping or picking at the bumps.
- Keep the skin clean.
Dry skin may worsen KP or cause the bumps to become itchy. This is why regular moisturizing is important. Try moisturizing the skin daily or more frequently if the skin is very dry.
Petroleum jelly and moisturizers designed for very dry skin, called emollients, may be beneficial in preventing transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and protecting the skin barrier.
Alternatively, some lotions that contain a chemical exfoliant may help remove dead skin and improve KP.
Exfoliation removes the top layer of dead skin cells, preventing them from clogging the hair follicles.
However, exfoliation can also irritate the skin, so a person may need to start with weaker exfoliants or experiment with different treatments. It is helpful to moisturize after exfoliating.
Some potentially helpful exfoliants include:
- salicylic acid
- azelaic acid
- lactic acid
Start with the lowest concentration of an exfoliant, then gradually increase the intensity based on the skin’s reaction.
Some prescription treatments, especially prescription-strength retinoids and other exfoliants, may help.
Talk with a doctor or dermatologist about the risks and benefits of these treatment options. Some options may not be suitable for those who are pregnant or nursing, for example, tretinoin. This medication has a high vitamin A concentration, making it unsuitable for both groups.
Other precautions may include using an effective sunscreen — with a high SPF — when using prescription exfoliants, as they can make the skin more sensitive to the sun.
Laser therapy can reduce the appearance of bumpy skin by removing dead skin cells.
Different laser types are available, and dermatologists can guide a person to the best laser for their skin. Fractional carbon dioxide (CO2) and Nd:YAG lasers are examples.
Like laser therapy, chemical peels can also improve the appearance of bumpy skin.
Chemical peels utilize acids to exfoliate the skin. For example,
A dermatologist can best advise on the acid and acid strength to use. People with darker skin tones may be at higher risk of developing discoloration or scarring following the peel.
Learn more about chemical peels.
Phototherapy, a treatment that exposes the skin to UV light, may also ease symptoms. As such, some people find that their symptoms improve in the summer.
The treatment for children and adults with KP is the same. However, exfoliating acids are toxic and may irritate the skin of very young children. Instead, parents may elect to use moisturizing creams.
As children become teenagers, it is safe to use exfoliating creams. Parents should supervise their use and ensure children are using them appropriately to avoid:
- overusing them
- using multiple products at once
- getting the products in their nose or mouth, which can cause irritation
Keratosis pilaris can be a chronic condition. Although symptoms may improve with treatment, they may reappear when a person stops treatment.
To manage a new flare-up, a person should first try the same treatment that worked the last time they had symptoms.
Sometimes symptoms improve in the summer and then return in the winter. People who notice this pattern may wish to try heavier moisturizers and more frequent exfoliation as winter begins to prevent symptoms from reappearing.
KP does not necessarily require any treatment. However, if a person feels it is affecting their self-image or has any other concerns, they may wish to consult a dermatologist.
For example, if treatment over a long period has not resolved the bumpy appearance, it may be possible that another skin condition, such as acne, is affecting the face rather than KP. If so, a dermatologist can help determine the cause of the bumpy skin.
Keratosis pilaris is not dangerous, but it can affect a person’s appearance. Severe KP may leave scars. The bumpy appearance may make it difficult to conceal symptoms by wearing makeup, so when KP appears on the face, many people opt to treat it.
Several home treatments can be effective. If these do not work, more aggressive prescription and medical interventions may help.
People with chronic KP should see a dermatologist to discuss care options and to ensure they have not mistaken KP for another condition, such as acne.