Have you noticed little raised red or white bumps on the back of your forearms, buttocks or the top of your thighs/quads? If so, then you likely are likely dealing with a skin condition called keratosis pilaris, which is also commonly referred to as chicken skin.
We’re going to dive into what this skin condition is, how you most likely got it and how you can take steps to eliminate it for good.
Keratosis pilaris is a skin condition affecting nearly 50-80% of adolescents and about 40% of adults. Also commonly referred to as “chicken skin,” keratosis pilaris appears as white or red raised bumps on the buttocks, thighs, arms and occasionally the face.
It occurs when there is a build-up of keratin, which is the main protein that protects our skin. This keratin build up blocks the hair follicles, resulting in the raised bumps. Sometimes, you can even gently squeeze these bumps and the white protein particle will be excreted. (As someone who has suffered from keratosis pilaris, it’s wildld tempting to do this, but it als results in long term scarring — you’ve been warned!)
Conventional medicine will tell you that this painless skin condition can be “perfectly normal” or that we don’t really know why some individuals develop this rash. They’ll also tell you ways to manage it topically, and to “wait it out” until hopefully it just disappears on its own.
I’m here to tell you that’s total hogwash! It’s not normal and we do know how and why keratosis pilaris occurs in some individuals. We also know exactly how to treat it, which we’ll get to later in this article.
From a functional medicine standpoint, we know keratosis pilaris, like most skin conditions, actually is an inside job, meaning it occurs as a result of an internal balance. Our skin is a great indication of our internal gut and nutritional health. When we start to develop skin irritations like eczema (atopic dermatitis), psoriasis or acne, that’s a sign that we need to do some clean up work inside the body, usually the gut to uncover hidden pathogenic infections like candida or parasites, heal any intestinal permeability, or leaky gut and make sure to identify and resolve and nutrient deficiencies.
Which brings us to keratosis pilaris. One of the biggest causes of this skin rash is a vitamin A deficiency. One of our fat soluble vitamins, vitamin A is crucial for maintaining proper skin, eye and skeletal health as well as supporting cell growth and immune function. It can help form and maintain healthy teeth, soft tissue, mucus membranes and skin. Vitamin A contains retinol, which produces pigments in the eye and can help with fetal eye development.
A super nutrient, right? Unfortunately, most of us aren’t getting enough vitamin A in our diets or our guts are so imbalanced that we’re unable to properly absorb it even when consumed.
But you can start incorporating many vitamin A foods into your diet right now while you work on your digestion. This includes foods like cod liver oil, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, carrots (lots of orange things!), kale and spinach, dried apricots, egg yolks and beef liver (or beef liver supplements).
Then you also have to consider how your diet and overall microbiome health could be affecting your skin health. For instance, many studies show the connection between gluten consumption and the manifestation of skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and psoriasis. The same also applies to keratosis pilaris because the active protein in wheat, gliadin, has been proven to cause transient leaky gut in all individuals who consume it. This creates systemic inflammation throughout the body and an abnormal immune response.
This explains why many people with food sensitivities suffer from chronic skin issues. Our gut and skin are both organs that are densely vascularized and innervated, and play an important role in our immune, neurological and endocrine systems. Our gut is actually responsible for maintaining skin homeostasis, or in simple terms, overall skin health.
A good example of this is leaky gut syndrome. Medically referred to as intestinal permeability, leaky gut occurs when the intestinal lining has cracks in it where food, toxins and other debris “leak” out of the gut walls and into the bloodstream where they don’t belong. This creates an overactive immune response where the body perceives these otherwise healthy food particles as “foreign invaders” and activates your immune response. These food particles can also breach the blood-brain barrier and cause neurological disorders and brain inflammation.
Those who have leaky gut tend to have compounding food sensitivities not because their body can’t tolerate the food, but because the food is seeping into the bloodstream, causing an unnatural inflammatory response. Some people develop a histamine intolerance when their gut is compromised as well, which exacerbates skin issues.
But it goes even deeper than that. Leaky gut oftentimes is a symptom of a much deeper underlying imbalance in the body such as a pathogenic infection like candida/fungus, parasites, SIBO, and so on. These pathogens activate an ongoing assault on your body and it’s immune system, which manifests in many different ways, including skin conditions.
And when you have a chronic condition like that, this can and will impair your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, which could also explain a potential vitamin A deficiency. Parasites for example, steal your nutrients for their own survival. And leaky gut contributes to nutrient deficiencies because those nutrients never get absorbed in the gut like intended thanks to the cracks in your intestinal barrier, or tight junctions.
Since our skin also functions as one of our main detox organs, we can also experience skin outbreaks if our detoxification pathways are impaired or if our toxic and pathogenic burden becomes too high or imbalanced.
This can occur when someone begins a detoxification protocol and experiences breakouts on their face, skin, chest, legs, arms and back. Our skin is literally excreting toxic substances from our body and it does this by pushing those toxins through our skin cells, thereby creating unwanted pimples.
But this can also happen on a regular basis when our body simply can’t handle the toxic load.
Our bodies are an intricately connected system. No organ or system works in isolation, which is why when someone is suffering from a persistent and chronic skin condition like keratosis pilaris, you have to look at the body holistically and work to heal it from multiple angles, using different modalities.
This could include eliminating any pathogenic infections, temporarily removing certain trigger foods, healing a leaky gut and restoring any nutrient deficiencies before you begin to see any improvements.
So where do you start! I’ve got a quick 3 step guide that can point you in the right direction.
If you’re looking for an empathetic healer to help guide you through your keratosis pilaris healing journey, I can help! I have personally suffered from really bad keratosis pilaris on the back of my arms and top of my thighs for nearly 7 years while I was struggling with leaky gut, parasites, candida, SIBO, food sensitivities, and many other health issues.
By taking a holistic approach, I was able to completely eliminate my chicken skin as I worked to heal my underlying root causes and restore my nutrient deficiencies.