“Little did I know that using the epilator just once would cover my elbows and calves with tiny pimples and make my skin resemble that of a chicken,” says Bhavani Pandey a 28-year-old air hostess from Dehradun.
“Initially, I thought it was a reaction to something and would subside on its own but when it didn’t for a month, it got me a little worried,” she adds.
Although the bumps weren’t itchy or painful, the condition was of aesthetic concern to Pandey given her profession.
Pandey visited a dermatologist in 2019 who diagnosed her condition as keratosis pilaris, (KP) commonly known as chicken skin. But this is where her story begins.
Although the doctor diagnosed her condition, he was unable to provide a solution. To her disappointment, the doctor said the boils would subside on their own after some years and she could do nothing but wait.
Looking for a solution, Pandey decided to opt for homoeopathy. But to her amazement, the homoeopath she consulted was dealing with the same condition and asked her to ‘feel comfortable in her skin’ as the condition had no cure.
Happiest health spoke to a couple of senior dermatologists from Bengaluru and Delhi who have a more assuring story to tell.
Speaking on whether the condition can be treated and cured, Dr Vijaya Gowri Bandaru, consultant dermatologist at Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru, says that the condition is harmless and curable, but it takes around five to six months for the bumps to subside completely.
Dr Navin Taneja, a senior dermatologist from Delhi, says that although the condition is completely curable with topical and oral medication, he sometimes prefers to leave the keratin plugs (skin bumps) alone, especially in young kids who develop the condition after puberty. “If removed forcefully, the keratin plugs have chances of erupting as pustules (raised bumps filled with pus and fluid),” he warns.
The reason for the bumpy road
Dr Bandaru says that as the name suggests, keratosis pilaris is the accumulation of keratin (a protein in the body) in the empty hair follicles, forming a hard plug that resembles a pimple.
She explains that hair-removing techniques such as waxing or using the epilator generally pull out the hair from the follicle leaving a hollow space for the keratin to accumulate and form a bump.
“The condition generally appears during puberty when there is a spurt in the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) that leads to the overproduction of keratin,” says Dr Bandaru and adds that the condition usually subsides when the person reaches 30 or 40.
Pandey, the Dehradun-based air hostess was on medication for hypothyroidism when she was diagnosed with KP. Hence was her hormonal imbalance indirectly responsible for her condition?
Busting myths, Dr Taneja clarifies that the occurrence of KP is not correlated to any autoimmune conditions or obesity. “It is an autosomal dominant inherited condition meaning it is genetically determined,” he confirms.
Are women more prone than men?
“The condition is gender agnostic,” says Dr Taneja. “But it is prevalent in young people when puberty sets in,” he observes.
Dr Bandaru feels that girls resort to waxing and the usage of hair removal machines like the epilator at a very young age and this can trigger the condition. This explains the occurrence of the bumps on the girls’ arms (especially on the elbows) and legs, while in boys they usually appear on the shoulders and upper thighs – areas where they usually appear in mild cases.
Dr Taneja says that the laser hair removal technique though expensive is a safe and effective way to get rid of KP as well as hair ingrowth (hair that grows back into the skin causing inflammation).
As far as medication is concerned, the senior dermatologist from Delhi says that topical retinol (synthetic vitamin A) creams are the best treatment option for KP due to their exfoliating properties.
“When the skin is dry, the bumps become more prominent; hence applying a moisturiser with sunscreen during the day can significantly reduce the appearance of the bumps,” says Dr Taneja.
Dr Bandaru suggests the use of a razor that snips the hair from the base, without pulling it from the root as a better option for hair removal as compared to waxing or the epilator for people with the condition. She further points out that in severe cases, oral medication can be coupled with topical application of creams.
After struggling for almost two years, on the insistence of a friend, Pandey decided to consult another dermatologist in 2021. “Words cannot explain the relief I experienced when the doctor said that my condition was curable. I almost cried,” remembers Pandey with a smile.
She was advised to apply a cream made up of vitamin A derivatives every night with an assurance from the dermatologist that her bumps would fade away with regular usage for about six months.
Caution while taking oral medication
“Oral medication can affect organs like the liver and the kidney; so I always ask the people who consult me to get regular kidney and liver function tests,” says Dr Bandaru.
Dr Taneja says that oral medication should be strictly avoided by women planning a pregnancy. It is not recommended in pregnant women as it can affect the growth of the foetus. “In fact, even when men take the medication, it can affect the foetus during the conception stage,” he says.
As for Pandey, the resolution is peaceful. She has been cured of the condition for eight months now and is loving every bit of it.