Stop living with chicken skin: heal keratosis pilaris

Do you have areas of skin covering in red bumps like a rash, but without any itching or pain? Do your upper arms or thighs look a bit like a plucked chicken? You may have what’s called ‘keratosis pilaris’, a mild-to-moderate skin condition related to eczema. Because it’s not serious or painful, researchers and doctors don’t pay much attention. But, you don’t have to live with it. You can start healing you skin (and what’s underneath) today. You don’t even have to buy anything!

Do you struggle with chicken skin? Find out how I started healing mine from the inside out.

My story:

All my life, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had keratosis pilaris. This is also, charmingly, called ‘chicken skin’ and is usually a painless condition where areas of your skin produce a bit too much keratin, which blocks the pores, resulting in a lot of little raised, red bumps. Mine’s not serious, and it doesn’t hurt or interfere in my life in any way. But. Upper arms, butt, and thighs covered in small rough red bumps isn’t exactly my favourite thing.

While I haven’t ‘cured’ mine entirely, I have seen a major reduction in symptoms. It’s always worse in winter when it’s dry and cold, and I don’t think I’ll ever change that, but I am going to share with you today what has helped me.

The Basics:

The internet abounds with six million different ways you can work to resolve keratosis pilaris. The suggestions range from natural and mild, such as supplementing with vitamin A and moisturising with coconut oil, to scary and not mild at all – things like medications and steroid creams. That doesn’t sound cool. The bottom line is this condition isn’t sexy, not much is known about how to really help people with it, and the journey to smooth skin is long and confusing.

It’s a super common problem, and seems to have a big genetic component to it. But, just because you are genetically prone to something doesn’t mean you have to have it. It just means you have to identify what’s going on, what triggers those genes in you, and work to improve it with that knowledge.

I feel like there are two super important things to know when trying to work with keratosis pilaris.

1) It’s not just a skin condition. It’s a symptom. It’s trying to tell you that something isn’t working quite right. From reading lots of accounts online and the different techniques that have worked for different people, it seems like it can be a symptom of a few different things:

  • Food allergies
  • Poor detoxification pathways
  • Vitamin, mineral, or nutrient deficiencies
  • Macro-nutrient balance issues (usually a deficiency in healthy fats)
  • And do you know what exacerbates ALL of the above AND keratosis pilaris? Stress.

2) The skin is your body’s biggest detoxification and elimination organ. Most of us think of the liver here, but the skin actually plays a huge role. If you aren’t able to detox properly through the skin, it will produce symptoms. These symptoms are there to warn you.

Now, it has taken me about 2 years of slowly noticing patterns and changes in my skin. My keratosis pilaris does not heal quickly, so changes are gradual and can be tricky to link to certain behaviours. But, after some trial and error, taking detailed notes during my Whole30 – including photos, and just trying to relax into it and listen to my symptoms I identified both food allergies and poor detoxification as the main culprits.

How do you work out the cause of your keratosis pilaris?

Trial and error.

I’d start with the fixes I detail below because they are so common, and fairly simple. You need to give it about 3 months to start to see real improvements. I know that in this day and age waiting 3 months seems like a long time, but remember, if you’ve been living with this condition for years, it might take a little time for your body to start to heal from the inside out. What we’re doing here is trying to find the root cause and address it.

Where to start:

There are two things I’ve found help my keratosis pilaris: reducing or eliminating gluten from my diet, and drinking more water.

1) Reduce gluten.

I’ve been on an off gluten for a few years now, mostly in an experimental way. I have definitely, and clearly, noticed a massive reduction in my keratosis pilaris symptoms after a few months of being mostly gluten-free. I have found that I’m not super sensitive to it most of the time, so can eat the odd birthday cake, but too much gluten too often gives me a range of symptoms, including keratosis pilaris.

So, if you suffer from keratosis pilaris, try reducing or eliminating gluten from your diet for 3 months and see what happens. It’s worked for me. Have a look at this post where I talk about template eating to learn how to create a therapeutic diet for this phase of your healing.

2) Drink more water.

For the past three months I’ve not only been low-gluten, but I’ve put a lot more effort and awareness into drinking more water. This has improved all my elimination and detoxification pathways and I’ve seen further improvements to my chicken skin.

While I think every body is different, and there is no ‘right’ amount of water to aim for, I do know that some of my food cravings and late afternoon headaches were caused by not drinking enough. Since I started drinking 2+ litres of water most days I’ve not only seen those symptoms improve, but my keratosis pilaris too. And this makes total sense, though it wasn’t something I’d considered until noticing the improvement.

If you struggle to drink more, stay tuned next week for some tips on how to drink more water, and a yummy flavoured water recipe!

So, there is another simple fix for you to try over the next 3 months. Help your skin (and therefore your whole body) detox itself and you’ll see an improvement in your skin health for sure.

Where to go from here:

While these two techniques have vastly improved my symptoms, I’m still not seeing the smooth skin I’d like. I realise this may just not be in the cards for me at this point, and that’s ok. However, I’m not done yet, and have started eating 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil each morning. It not only tastes and feels great, but I’ve read a lot of anecdotal evidence that it’s worked for others. I’ll keep you updated on this in a few month’s time!

If none of those solutions feels right for you, or you tried them for a few months and didn’t get the results you were after, there are other options too. Although, I’d recommend sticking with drinking more water regardless of your keratosis pilaris outcomes, just because it’s so helpful for your whole body. But, what else can you do?

You can try:

Whatever you choose to do, know that you are not alone on this journey, and that you can have healthier skin. And if your skin is healthy, there’s a darn good chance this is reflecting internal health as well.

Let me know in the comments, do you have keratosis pilaris? Have you ever tried to do anything about it?

About Samantha

Hello! I'm Sam and I'm an Eating Psychology Coach. I work with women who struggle with emotional eating and weight loss to develop new strategies and lifestyles so they can stop using food to cope, lose weight, and eat happy.

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8 thoughts on “Stop living with chicken skin: heal keratosis pilaris

  • Astrid

    Excellent article and tips Samantha!

    I have a relative who has tried everything and nothing has worked. I know that Vitamin A deficiency is one of the root causes, but didn’t know gluten was also associated with it.
    Definitely sharing it with him.

    • Samantha Post author

      Hi Astrid, yes it can be quite a frustrating thing! And when it heals so slowly, it can be hard t pinpoint what you’re doing right. Certainly, gluten won’t be the answer for everyone, but giving it go won’t hurt. Thank you so much for sharing. I really liked your recent post about diabetes – where on earth did you find the time to research and write such a comprehensive post!?

  • Karen

    This is a condition that I’ve never heard of, but you seem to have done a lot of research and are well on your way to healing.
    I love your emphasis on drinking plenty of water. It benefits us in so many ways, and is certainly a first step I’d take in addressing most any ailment. I often ask my children when they complain of not feeling well if they have been drinking enough water. It’s always my first course of action with most any health concern we have.

    • Samantha Post author

      Hello Karen, you’re going to love this week’s post then 😀 It’s all about water and skin health. I know about 99% of any headache I ever get is caused by me forgetting to drink enough throughout the day – I’m with you on this one.

  • Crystal Bissonnette

    Interesting Samantha! We call “chicken skin” in my house when we get goose bumps 🙂 I never knew it was a condition. Being Gluten free helps your skin, do you feel better over all eating Gluten free? Just curious 🙂 Drinking water is so important!! I drink tons of water and make sure my kids do as well! It has many amazing health benefits!

    • Samantha Post author

      Hi Crystal – haha, we’ve always called the cold one ‘goose bumps’ 😀 Yes, I do feel better overall when I’m low-gluten or fully gluten-free. It helps with my bloating enormously.

  • Patricia

    Hello, Sam!

    Thank you for sharing your own experience. I also have keratosis pilaris and I sometimes get a bit conscious because of it. Just like you, I’ve been on a trial and error process trying to find for cure or treatment in order to get rid, if not, lessen the appearance of the red bumps on my skin. I noticed that aloe vera gel is effective too. I apply it every night and I noticed a slight difference in my skin texture, along with adequate intake of water.

    As you have mentioned, I would want to try to lessen the amount of food with gluten I’m taking and see what happens from there.

    Thanks again!

    • Samantha Post author

      Hey Patricia, thank you so much. Oh yeah, aloe vera gel is amazing, right? I love using it during summer, but find it a little too light for the winter months. And heck yes to the water.

      Thank you so much for your comment 🙂