Why Do I Get Little Bumps On My Arms?

Do you have rough, dry patches of skin with tiny red bumps that don't seem to go away? Their appearance can be irritating; however, you’ll be glad to know that they’re actually completely harmless. They are called keratosis pilaris.

Keratosis pilaris, or ‘chicken skin’, is usually found on the upper arms, thighs, cheeks, or buttocks. The condition occurs when there is an overproduction of keratin which, along with dead skin, blocks the hair follicle, forming a tiny red bump in its place. You’re more likely to experience keratosis pilaris if someone in your family has it or if you already suffer from dry skin or certain skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and ichthyosis vulgaris.

This article will explain and give an overview of the causes, symptoms, and treatment of keratosis pilaris and hopefully answer any questions you may have.


Keratosis pilaris is a common and harmless skin condition. It presents itself as dry, rough patches on the skin with tiny bumps that don’t usually tend to itch or hurt. The skin condition can’t be cured or prevented, but it can be treated. 

Causes of keratosis pilaris

Keratosis pilaris is caused by the build-up of keratin - a hard protein that protects skin from harmful substances and infection.1 It is not clear to scientists why keratin builds up in those with keratosis pilaris, but it is this process that causes the rough, scaly skin to develop. It was thought that the skin condition may be related to a vitamin A deficiency, but healthcare providers now think that there could be a genetic factor associated with it.2 Keratosis pilaris is not contagious, so you can’t catch it or spread it. 

Signs and symptoms of keratosis pilaris

The appearance of bumps may be the only symptom you experience. However, other symptoms may include:

  • Painless small bumps on the upper arms, thighs, cheeks, or buttocks
  • Irritable, dry, or rough skin
  • Worsening of the bumps when seasonal changes cause low humidity, such as in wintertime
  • Redness or pinkness where the bumps appear
  • Sandpaper-like feeling where the bumps appear

Keratosis pilaris can sometimes be mistaken for the following conditions that also cause similar symptoms:

Please note, that keratosis pilaris is harmless and is in no way associated with skin cancer. If the appearance of the bumps bothers you, treatment can help.

Management and treatment for keratosis pilaris

If you’re looking to reduce the small red bumps on your arms, you can make lifestyle changes that will help to manage them. Treatment with moisturisers, creams, and home remedies may also help your symptoms. Some of these include:

Running a lukewarm bath

The warmth from a bath can help open up hair follicles and pores and allow any trapped dead skin cells to surface, clearing out blockages.3


Gently exfoliating the skin one to two times a week can increase the turnover of dead skin cells, helping the bumps disappear. Using your exfoliant of choice, perform soft circular motions to wash the affected areas of your skin while you shower or bathe. Be careful not to scrub too hard, as this could irritate the skin, exacerbating your symptoms. 

Moisturising daily

Dry skin can make keratosis pilaris worse. Moisturising daily is key to keeping your skin hydrated in order to minimise the appearance of bumps. Applying the moisturiser while your skin is still damp can help prevent the body's natural moisture from escaping. Any non-prescription cream that contains lactic acid, alpha hydroxy acid, or salicylic acid will moisturise and soften dry skin as well as help loosen up and remove dead skin cells. 

Home remedies

Home remedies can help your affected skin look healthier, which may minimise the appearance of lumps and bumps. Some examples are:

  • Apple cider vinegar: this contains acetic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid with natural skin exfoliating properties. Diluting the apple cider vinegar with water before use is recommended to prevent any skin irritation
  • Baking soda: A natural exfoliant
  • Coconut oil: A popular moisturiser for the skin that also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial characteristics that help reduce discolouration and inflammation4
  • Water: Drinking enough water and other fluids can help keep your skin hydrated and minimise the appearance of keratosis pilaris


How common is keratosis pilaris

Keratosis pilaris is so common that most dermatologists consider it a skin type instead of a medical condition. About 50% to 80% of teenagers and 40% of adults will develop these acne-like bumps at some point during their lives.5

How can I prevent keratosis pilaris

Keratosis pilaris cannot be prevented, but can be managed with the use of treatments. Keeping the skin moisturised and hydrated is key. 

How is keratosis pilaris diagnosed

Keratosis pilaris can be diagnosed by your family doctor with a simple physical examination of the area of skin that has been affected. No testing is needed.

When should I call my doctor

Treatment for keratosis pilaris usually isn't necessary. But, if you don't see an improvement after a month or so of starting a treatment plan and it is affecting your self-esteem, reach out to your doctor. 


So, why do I get little bumps on my arms? The reason is due to blockages of pores on the skin from a buildup of keratin and dead skin cells. There is no scientific data to explain why it happens to some people and not others, but it is suggested that it has something to do with your genetic makeup. Luckily, keratosis pilaris is harmless and can be managed with treatment.


  1. Keratosis pilaris - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2023 Jan 20]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/keratosis-pilaris/symptoms-causes/syc-20351149 
  2. Stannus HS. Vitamin a and the skin. Proc R Soc Med [Internet]. 1945 May [cited 2023 Jan 21];38(7):337–42. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2181978/ 
  3. How to get rid of red bumps on arms [Internet]. Parsley Health. [cited 2023 Jan 22]. Available from: https://www.parsleyhealth.com 
  4. Keratosis pilaris: what it is, causes, symptoms & treatment [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. [cited 2023 Jan 20]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17758-keratosis-pilaris 
  5. Peedikayil FC, Remy V, John S, Chandru TP, Sreenivasan P, Bijapur GA. Comparison of antibacterial efficacy of coconut oil and chlorhexidine on Streptococcus mutans: An in vivo study. J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. 2016;6(5):447–52. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27891311/ 
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Ruby Petrovic

Bachelors of Science - Pharmaceutical and Cosmetic Science,Liverpool John Moores University (with industrial experience)

Hi! My name is Ruby and I am a currently doing a BSc in Pharmaceutical and Cosmetic Science with a year in industry. I have a growing passion for medical writing, and truly enjoy being able to communicate a vast array of scientific knowledge in different therapeutic areas, in such a way that those with non-scientific backgrounds can greater understand and better their own health. I hope reading this article has helped answer any questions you may have had!

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