After using the olive oil cleansing method for years and years, I noticed that I was getting what I thought were acne breakouts along my jaw line, forehead, and on both temples. I switched to Coconut Oil, then integrated Tea Tree Oil, and Miracle Salve. I would see some improvement, but it wouldn’t ever completely clear up. After chatting with a dermatologist, I finally understood that what was going on with my face wasn’t, actually acne at all, but Keratosis Pilaris.
Great, fantastic. I have that on the back of my upper legs, though mine isn’t very textbook. I don’t have the reddish patches, and it doesn’t affect my upper arms like it does for many. I just get bumps. Bumps that can actually be popped, but not in a typical pimple kind of way. What’s inside is a waxy kind of plug, no pus, nothing runny or oozy. It’s kind of amazing I didn’t make the connection, that what I battle on my legs could actually be affecting my face — but when you read about Keratosis Pilaris (KP for short) usually only the commonly affected areas are discussed (upper arms and upper legs).
Fun Facts about Keratosis Pilaris
KP is a common genetic follicular condition where my skin produces too much keratin. The excess keratin, which is cream colored, surrounds and entraps the hair follicles in the pore. This causes the formation of hard plugs (process known as hyperkeratinization). You can end up with ingrown hairs (the plugs trap the hair) but the trapped hairs are a side effect, not the cause of the bumps. I can’t find any research on it, but I theorize that those who make this excess keratin also have fast-growing, thick, healthy hair and nails. That’s true for me at least, so silver lining?
Treatment for KP on the Face
First of all, there is no cure. If you’re one of the lucky 40 – 50% who battle with Keratosis Pilaris, congrats. You’re basically in for a long, continuous fight, until old age takes over and your body lays off the excess keratin production.
Instead of trying to treat what I thought was a super frustrating case of adult acne, I’ve now switched gears.
- I wash morning and night with Dr. Bronner’s Hemp Tea Tree Pure Castile Soap.
- The dermatologist recommended a Clarisonic scrubbing device, but I couldn’t afford it. I am using the Olay Face Scrubber instead, it is lovely, I can only imagine how much nicer the Clarisonic would be. I lather up the Tea Tree soap and use the scrubber to massage my entire face, paying special attention to KP areas.
- After scrubbing, I gently pop (yes! pop!) any KP bumps that look poppable. They are not like liquidy, pussy pimples that will go away if you leave them alone. If you get a raised bump, it’s going to hang out for the duration, the waxy plug can even collect dirt and turn black on the tip — just lovely. The plugs can also irritate the skin and cause an infection (what I thought were cystic acne before were just inflamed pores trying unsuccessfully to fight off the KP plugs. Nice). So popping can be kind of important. I am gentle, though I’ve never had a problem with scarring on my face.
- Next, I dab on some liquid Tea Tree Oil and/or Lavender Oil on any popped-areas to help speed the healing process.
- Finally, I moisturize with lotion containing either urea or lactic acid. Right now I’m using Ammonium Lactate Lotion 12% which has the exact same ingredients as the more expensive, oft recommended AmLactin Lotion. It stings just a bit going on, but isn’t bad, in only stings for a second or two. It is not perfumed and can taste bitter if I get it too close to my lips, but it doesn’t smell bad or anything.
Treating KP on my legs
In years past, I used a Paula’s Choice lotion specially formulated for KP on the backs of my legs. It worked wonderfully, and I had a couple of really great swim suit seasons not worried about what the backs of my thighs looked like. But! It’s crazy expensive, and since my legs are much longer than most, I went through it fast. I switched to Eucerin Cream with Urea (it’s hard to find! It’s not the regular Eucerin cream, you have to find the kind with 5% Urea in it), and it works just as well on my legs. Seems too heavy for the face, though maybe it would be fine because…
KP is not a clogged pore problem in the traditional sense where you have dirt, oil, makeup, etc. clogging the pore from the outside. My body is clogging up the pore from the inside so it’s a different battle. The dermatologist agreed that my years of cleansing with olive or coconut oil probably helped keep the top part of the plugs dissolved from the surface, and guessed that maybe recent stressors in my life (work, age, health) overwhelmed the method or perhaps my skin just grew tired of the treatment. I would still recommend cleansing with olive or coconut oil for typical acne problems.
I still use Miracle Salve around my eye area, and so far the new regime is going well. I’m mid-lady-cycle (oversharing online since 2002!) and my skin hasn’t had any major flareups or infections, and there’s a big improvement in softness and a decrease in ‘poppable’ bumps every day. I had nothing to pop last night, it was almost weird!
Scouring the interwebs for information on KP, there are a lot of different methods and expensive creams to try. If you accept that it’s probably never going to go away, I think managing it is pretty simple, really. Use a good-for-you facial cleanser like Tea Tree Oil soap that doesn’t have a bunch of junk in it like parabens. We’re taught from our prepubescent years to fear anything that’s going to clog our pores, you have to stop thinking along those lines when you’re dealing with KP. Moisturizing is KEY. And moisturizing with something that will help clear up those clogs is important. Urea and Lactic Acid have both worked really well for me. I haven’t had ANY luck with salicylic acid. It seems to dry up the surface of my skin into flakes without touching the bumps.
I don’t drink soda, juice, or even milk. I don’t drink alcoholic beverages, coffee, or tea. I drink water. Water, water, water. Everything I read on this skin condition emphasizes water. That’s because your skin can moisturize itself from the inside out as long as you aren’t dehydrated. So drink up.
I read somewhere that Apple Cider Vinegar is really great for your skin. My goats sure like it poured into their water. I couldn’t make myself take a spoonful every day, so I’m trying these ACV tablets. I do think it helps, I might be crazy, but I also think my digestion has improved with these.
Ha ha. I never know how to end these informational type, boringish posts. So if you read this, I assume it’s because you’re dealing with something similar. Thanks for sitting through it, and I hope you found something helpful!
Have a great weekend!
01/24/13 This worked, and cleared up most of the bumps. The Amlactin got a little harsh, so I switched back to the above linked Miracle Salve for a moisturizer. I’ve continued to use the Olay face brush thingie, and Dr. Bronner’s soap, and it’s working well, my face is smooth again!