What Are the Causes of Rough, Dry, Chicken-Like Skin?

Fact Checked

iJupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

Rough, dry, chicken-like skin is not damaging to your health, but it can be very embarrassing. The condition is usually caused by keratosis pilaris. Fortunately, a number of treatments are available to help reduce the appearance of the condition.


Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition also known as “chicken skin”. It manifests as small, hard bumps on the surface of the skin, usually on the upper arms, thighs, buttocks and, occasionally, the face. The bumps are usually skin-colored, but can be red when irritated. They do not cause pain, but may occasionally itch.


Keratin is a hard insoluble protein that makes up a large part of the skin, hair and nails. The skin on the body is in a constant state of change, as older skin cells detach to make room for new cells rising to the surface. In keratosis pilaris, the cells do not detach completely. They absorb sebum and become lodged in the openings of hair follicles, forming hard bumps.

Vulnerable Populations

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, keratosis pilaris is a genetic disorder. It is most common in white people of Celtic origin who live in cold climates and people who are overweight. People who already have dry skin problems such as dermatitis or eczema are also more prone to the disorder.

According to MayoClinic.com, up to 80 percent of children have keratosis pilaris. After a brief worsening during puberty, the condition tends to alleviate; however, up to 40 percent of adults still have keratosis pilaris.


As keratosis pilaris is a hereditary condition, it cannot be completely eliminated. However, exfoliation and intensive moisturizing can greatly reduce the appearance of the bumps. Physical exfoliation with a rough facecloth is most effective when combined with chemical exfoliation. If you use a rich moisturizer after exfoliating, any remaining bumps are softened and made less noticeable. In extreme cases, you may want to see a dermatologist for professional treatment.