Managing the skin you’re in

Razor burn or ingrown hair? Could be keratosis

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The skin is the largest organ of the body, and it can be affected by many different conditions — some benign and some serious. Because the skin is so visible, most people look to the quickest and simplest solutions when something goes wrong.

Women may quickly notice skin conditions that seem out of the ordinary. Women who shave their legs and underarms on a regular basis may have come across tiny bumps. Many women assume these bumps are razor burn from shaving too frequently or with a dull razor. Others may think the bumps are caused by ingrown hairs and try to exfoliate them away. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, the red bumps that occur on various parts of the body, often legs, arms and cheeks, may not be related to grooming routines at all. They may be a sign of a condition called keratosis pilaris. This condition occurs where keratin builds up on the skin, forming a hard, scaly “plug” that blocks up the hair follicle. These plugs tend to occur in groups, which can contribute to the skin looking bumpy or mottled. Due to its appearance, keratosis pilaris is sometimes referred to as “strawberry legs,” “gooseflesh,” “sandpaper skin,” or “chicken skin.”

Dr. Jennifer Soung, Assistant Professor of Dermatology and Director of Dermatology Clinical Research at the University of California, Irvine, says more than half of Americans show signs of keratosis pilaris in their teens. The vast majority of those with this skin condition are women. KP tends to run in families, and it’s more common in people with dry, sensitive skin and those prone to eczema.

Due to the fact that KP can look like many things, such as raised lumps or pinpricks, or even a rash, it can be challenging to self-diagnose. It is better to seek the assistance of a dermatologist. A doctor can reliably diagnose KP with a quick, in-office skin exam. Lab testing typically is not required unless the doctor is concerned by the presence of other skin-related symptoms. KP tends to be outgrown by the end of childhood. However, adults may continue to experience this condition for the rest of their lives.

Effective treatment options can help reduce symptoms.

• Exfoliate: Exfoliation can come from gently wiping the skin with a textured washcloth while cleansing with topical creams and lotions. Products containing alpha hydroxy acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, or urea help loosen and remove dead skin cells, states the Mayo Clinic.

• Use retinoids: Retinoids are derived from vitamin A and work by promoting cell turnover. This may help prevent follicles from being blocked by keratin. Retinoids need a doctor’s prescription for use.

• Laser treatment: A dermatologist may suggest a laser treatment if other avenues have not worked to help reduce redness and inflammation or certain types of scarring. Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition among women. It may be mistaken for razor burn or ingrown hairs, but it is its own issue and requires consultation with a dermatologist.