Keratosis Pilaris and Skin Picking Disorder

Trudi Griffin - LPC
May 25th, 2018

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What is Keratosis Pilaris?

Keratosis Pilaris is a common skin disorder characterized by bumpy skin accompanied by redness. It tends to show up on the upper arms, legs, buttocks, and sometimes the face. Often described as “chicken skin” it is harmless, non-contagious, and cycles through periods of mild to severe outbreaks.

What causes it?

When the skin is dry, skin cells flake off, however, in people with Keratosis Pilaris, the small dry skin particles called keratin clump up in the openings of hair follicles. The redness that sometimes appears with the bumps results from the dilation of the small blood vessels under the skin. Everyone experiences the sloughing of dead skin cells, but medical science does not have an answer for why some people develop keratosis pilaris and why others do not. Some theories suggest it is a hereditary condition since it tends to run in families. Other theories suggest it is related to dry skin conditions and allergic inflammation conditions.

Skin Picking

 People with compulsive skin picking disorder and Keratosis Pilaris experience additional suffering because the tiny bumps serve as a trigger to pick. Some people claim it is the appearance of the bump and the compulsion to get rid of it that triggers picking while others say it is the tactile sensation of the bump that must be eliminated. The challenge for people who pick at their skin is that they often end up with scarring because the bumps occur in rash-like accumulations on the skin and they are difficult to remove.

What to do about it?

There are several approaches to take with Keratosis Pilaris if you have skin picking disorder. Treat the Keratosis Pilaris externally. Since dry skin and clogged hair follicles cause it, therefore, taking care of one’s skin is essential to preventing the formation of bumps. One way to do that is by making sure your skin is hydrated and clean. Because everyone’s skin is different, it can be challenging to figure out the best balance. However, using mild soaps and cleansers as well as gentle moisturizers are an excellent place to start. Also, exfoliate gently on occasion using a mild scrub. Some people report that over the counter products work fine while others report that they dry out the skin too much. If you are unable to find the combination that works for your skin, visit with a dermatologist to discuss trying lactic acid lotions, alpha hydroxy acid lotions, salicylic acid lotions, retinoid creams, or urea cream. Refrain from scrubbing the area, because it can damage and scrape off your skin. Also, cleansers, creams, and lotions take time to work, do not expect immediate results. Finally, treating Keratosis Pilaris is an ongoing process. If the bumps go away, keep up the cleansing and moisturizing routine that works to maintain healthy skin.

Nutritional Supplements for the Skin

Treat the skin internally. The skin is the largest organ of the human body, and it reacts to food and chemicals you ingest. Before making drastic changes to your diet or vitamin regimen, talk to a physician.

  • Vitamin C helps neutralize the damage done to the skin by free radicals and helps promote healing by strengthening the skin’s outer layers.
  • Vitamin E promotes healing on the skin’s surface, but it also balances inflammation of the skin when taken internally.
  • Vitamin K also helps heal skin damage as well as protecting sensitive skin during treatment.
  • Biotin, or vitamin B, decrease inflammation and itching on the skin.
  • Anti-inflammatory foods are recommended for the body to heal and hydrate.
  • Keep your body hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Habit Reversal 

Don’t pick. For people with skin picking disorder, it will take extra work and perseverance to refrain from picking at the bumps. Therefore, consider working on creating stimulus controls and competing responses targeted to the Keratosis Pilaris. Stimulus controls mean looking at external factors that influence picking behavior and competing responses are activities that you do to make picking difficult or impossible.

Stimulus control ideas –

  • Change the lighting and mirror setup where you usually see your skin so that your attention is not drawn to the bumps and/or redness associated with keratosis pilaris. Make the light dimmer. Make mirrors smaller or cover mirrors when the bumps are visible. Do not use magnifiers on mirrors. 
  • Another idea is to find ways NOT to be alone. Most people who pick at their skin do so in private. Make sure people are around or enlist the help of a significant other to monitor your time alone in private areas.

Competing response ideas –

  • Make sure you wear clothes that cover the bumps, so your fingers do not have access to them. In the event you experience severe urges to pick, wear gloves.
  • Keep your hands busy with fidget or stress devices until the urge to pick passes.

Keratosis Pilaris is a common skin disorder that affects many people, and in those with skin picking disorder, it serves as a trigger. Treat the Keratosis Pilaris both internally and externally and focus therapeutic interventions on preventing picking at the bumps. It may take awhile to manage, but don’t give up.

Trudi Griffin - LPC


Education, experience, and compassion for people informs Trudi's research and writing about mental health. She holds a Master of Science degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Addictions and Mental Health from Marquette University, with Bachelor’s degrees in Communications and Psychology from the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. Before committing to full-time research and writing, she practiced as a Licensed Professional Counselor providing therapy to people of all ages who struggled with addictions, mental health problems, and trauma recovery in community health settings and private practice.

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