Keratosis Pilaris vs. Eczema: How to Tell the Difference

There’s dry skin — and then there’s clinically dry skin: the red, rough, bumpy and irritated skin that needs special attention. Keratosis pilaris (aka “chicken skin”) and eczema are two such conditions — but how can you tell the difference between them?

Read on for advice from a pro: board certified dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper).

The difference between eczema and keratosis pilaris which can be treated with Body Smoothing System by SLMD Skincare

What is keratosis pilaris?

Often called “chicken skin,” keratosis pilaris (KP for short) is a common condition that consists of dry patches of skin covered in small, raised bumps that may be flesh colored, pink/red, or tan/brown. It’s most frequently found on:

  • Upper arms
  • Thighs
  • Cheeks
  • Buttocks

Though scientists aren’t exactly sure what triggers keratosis pilaris, the characteristic bumps are caused by a buildup of dead skin cells (keratinocytes) that form a plug at the surface of a pore opening.

How do you treat keratosis pilaris?

Because it’s a buildup of dry, dead skin cells, the treatment for KP is twofold:

  • Exfoliate: alpha hydroxy acids are ideal for the job. Try SLMD Skincare Glycolic Acid Body Scrub, a daily scrub that contains both physical exfoliants (self-dissolving granules) and chemical exfoliants to slough away dead skin daily.
  • Moisturise: use a combination exfoliant+moisturiser while skin is still damp from the shower.

SLMD Glycolic Acid Body Scrub

What is eczema?

An inflammatory skin condition, eczema is characterized by extremely dry, red, itchy skin that’s sometimes covered in red, oozing bumps. The condition originates from a compromised skin barrier. Scientists don’t know what causes eczema, but it’s believed to be a combination of:

  • Genetics
  • Environment
  • Lifestyle

What’s the best way to treat eczema?

Typical eczema treatment involves a combination of skincare and lifestyle remedies:

  • Moisturise
  • Avoid allergens
  • Bathe in warm (not hot) water

For moderate to severe eczema, talk to your dermatologist about possible prescription medications.

Dr. Lee’s last word

I see a lot of patients for bumpy, dry skin conditions like keratosis pilaris and eczema. These are very common skin complaints that sometimes subside after puberty — but when they persist, we have ways to manage them. KP responds very well to AHAs like glycolic and lactic acid, while intensive hydration like hyaluronic acid is great for treating mild eczema. In more severe cases, there are a host of prescription topicals we can try.

—Dr. Sandra Lee


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