What Causes Bumps on Arms (Keratosis Pilaris)?
And How to Get Rid of Them
Medically reviewed by Susan Bard, MD
Bumps on the arms often are a symptom of keratosis pilaris, a harmless skin condition that results in small bumps on the skin, usually on the arms, thighs, cheeks, and buttocks.
While keratosis pilaris is a common cause of bumps on the arms, other conditions may be at play, such as eczema, contact dermatitis, and hives.
Oftentimes bumps on the arms don’t require treatment. Keratosis pilaris is a harmless condition. However, some people may want to eliminate the bumps to improve their skin’s appearance. Treatment options may be tried at home or with the help of a healthcare provider, such as a dermatologist (a specialist in conditions of the skin, hair, and nails).
This article discusses what bumps on the arms usually look and feel like, what may be causing them, and potential ways to eliminate or reduce their appearance.
Bumps on arms caused by keratosis pilaris affect 40% of adults and up to 80% of adolescents, and the upper arms are a common spot for skin bumps due to keratosis pilaris.
What Do Bumps on Arms Look Like?
Bumps on arms can take many forms and may look different across people, depending on the cause and skin type. For example, itchy bumps on arms may be due to an allergic reaction or eczema.
Most of the time, little bumps appearing on the upper arms are due to keratosis pilaris.
Keratosis pilaris is sometimes called chicken skin because of its goosebump-like appearance. Skin bumps due to keratosis pilaris are not contagious.
Bumps on arms due to keratosis pilaris often have the following characteristics:
Feel rough and dry, almost like sandpaper
Appear the same color as your skin
Don’t hurt or itch
Can be persistent, despite treatment
If you have bumps on your arms, you may also notice them on your thighs, buttocks, or cheeks as these are other common areas affected by keratosis pilaris.
Bumps on the arms may also be different from your skin color. For example, they may show up red on light skin and brownish-black on dark skin; they might also be white. Bumps on arms from keratosis pilaris may come and go—some people notice that they disappear in the summer and come back in the winter.
Causes of Bumps on Arms
Bumps on arms can be a result of several conditions, one of the most common being keratosis pilaris, which is harmless. Keratosis pilaris usually is harmless and is caused by a buildup of a protein called keratin that blocks the pores and forms bumps.
Other conditions that may cause bumpy skin or rashes on the arms include:
A viral condition, like chickenpox or measles
Arms are a common place for keratosis pilaris to appear. The bumps are small, painless, and don’t itch. However, speak with a dermatologist or other healthcare provider if you have changes in your skin and don’t know what is causing them.
How to Treat Bumps on the Arms
Treatment options for bumps on arms will depend on the cause. Therefore, getting an accurate diagnosis is key to getting the right treatment.
If keratosis pilaris is the cause, treatment is not needed since the condition is harmless. However, it’s understandable if you want the bumps to go away for appearance’s sake. You may be able to treat the bumps on your arms at home. Below are some simple home remedies to try:
Use a mild moisturizer several times during the day.
Use a mild, non-soap cleanser on your arms in the shower.
Avoid hot showers or baths.
Using a urea or lactic acid moisturizer may help treat skin bumps and relieve dryness. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, apply the moisturizer directly on the bumpy areas of skin within five minutes of showering or bathing, or at least two to three times a day.
Exfoliation, the process of removing dead skin cells from the top layer of skin, may also to help relieve the bumpiness. For this, you can use a loofah or microdermabrasion kit.
A healthcare provider may also recommend a medication to help improve the appearance of bumpy skin. These medications often include a type of acid, retinol, or urea.
Research has found that using acids, such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid, may improve the appearance of keratosis pilaris. Follow a healthcare provider’s instructions on how often and for how long to use a medication. Stop using it if your skin gets irritated.
Laser Therapy (Light Therapy)
Speak to a healthcare provider if treating the bumps at home isn’t working. If bumps persist despite moisturizers or medications, a healthcare provider may recommend a more targeted treatment such as laser, or light, therapy. Laser treatment may reduce swelling, redness, and discoloration and improve your skin’s texture.
It may take time and trying different treatment options for the bumps to go away. Remember that treatment is optional. Bumps on the arms usually are harmless. Usually, the bumps will disappear over time, even without treatment.
Risk Factors Associated With Bumps on Arms
Bumps on arms from keratosis pilaris may persist if you live in a dry climate or frequent swimming pools. Keratosis pilaris is more common around puberty and often improves as you age. It can recur.
Risk factors that may increase the likelihood of keratosis pilaris include:
Very dry skin, including from the condition ichthyosis vulgaris
Being overweight or having obesity
Using Zebloraf (vemurafenib), a medication used to treat the skin cancer melanoma
When to See a Healthcare Provider
It’s important to see a healthcare provider, such as a dermatologist, for skin changes that are new or worsening. However, keratosis pilaris is very common and harmless and usually not a need to worry.
If you’re concerned about the appearance of bumps on your arms and home remedies like consistently moisturizing isn’t helping, speak to a healthcare provider about other treatment options.
In addition, if you notice a worsening appearance of bumps on your arms or if your symptoms change, reach out to a healthcare provider to determine the cause.
Bumps on the arms are common and are usually due to keratosis pilaris. Very dry skin, a family history of bumps, and eczema are common risk factors of keratosis pilaris and bumps on arms.
Bumps on the arms due to keratosis pilaris are harmless, may come and go, and don’t require treatment. However, if the appearance is bothersome, you can treat bumps on the arms at home or with the help of a healthcare provider.