Bumpy, Rough Skin: Causes and Treatment Options

Bumpy, rough skin is a common complaint among people with many different skin types and can be caused by a variety of skin conditions, including keratosis pilaris, folliculitis, and an impaired skin barrier. Find out how to tell if you might be dealing with one of these common dry skin conditions, what the best treatment options are, and how to prevent bumpy or rough skin in the future.

Keratosis Pilaris

Keratosis pilaris, often referred to as KP, is a common skin condition that causes dry, sandpaper-like bumps on the skin, usually on the arms and outer thighs. These bumps, caused by an increase in keratin production, are typically red or flesh-colored and do not itch or hurt. While KP bumps are harmless, they can be unsightly if left untreated, so many men and women with these rough bumps choose to speak with a dermatologist about the best treatment options for KP.

Exfoliation and moisturization are the two most important steps when treating KP bumps. Exfoliants help to remove the buildups of keratin on the skin that create these bumps, while moisturization helps to prevent continued keratin buildup in the future. 

The key to effectively treating KP bumps is to work with your dermatologist or an STS approved medical provider to find the best exfoliating and moisturizing products for your skin type. Sensitive skin, for example, tolerates chemical exfoliants such as hydroxy acids better than physical exfoliants such as scrubs.



Red, pus-filled bumps that appear in areas where you shave, such as under your arms, on your legs, or face, are likely caused by a condition called folliculitis. Folliculitis occurs when a hair follicle becomes inflamed, usually caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. 

In addition to shaving, wearing tight-fitting clothing when working out, not changing clothes immediately after sweating, and soaking in improperly-maintained hot tubs can cause folliculitis. A specific type of folliculitis, called pityrosporum folliculitis, is likely the cause of a common skin rash seen in many people who wear Lululemon or other tight-fitting pants to the gym. This type of folliculitis often resembles acne but is distinct in that it causes itching, whereas acne typically does not.

The best treatments for folliculitis depend on the type and cause of folliculitis you have, as well as how mild or severe it is. Mild cases of folliculitis may clear up on their own, and warm compresses can help to soothe skin in the meantime. For more severe or recurrent cases, your dermatologist might prescribe topical or oral medications to clear the infection. 

To prevent folliculitis in the future:

  • Use a moisturizing shaving cream each time you shave. 
  • Shave in the direction of hair growth, not against it.
  • Shower or change clothes immediately after working out. 
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing such as leggings, especially when working out, if you begin to develop a bumpy rash.

Impaired Skin Barrier 

Rough, itchy, or ashy skin can also be caused by dehydration. Skin becomes dry and dehydrated when its protective barrier is impaired and unable to function properly. An impaired skin barrier will have trouble retaining moisture and keeping allergens and irritants out. 

While some people are genetically predisposed to have dry, dehydrated skin, lifestyle factors such as spending lots of time in the sun or exposing the skin to cold wind in the winter can also contribute to a damaged skin barrier. To restore proper skin barrier function and healthy hydration to your skin, use a barrier repair moisturizer that uses multi-lamellar emulsion (MLE) or PSL (Physiologic Lipids) technology to mimic your skin’s natural lipid structure and repair barrier damage.  Our favorite is Zerafite Ultra Rich Body cream.

Dry skin in darker skin tones can sometimes appear to be gray or ashy and often feels rough or bumpy. Adding a barrier repair moisturizer to your daily skincare regimen will help your skin to retain moisture, diminishing the appearance of ashy skin.

Very dry or ashy skin can benefit from twice-daily applications of a good-quality barrier repair moisturizer. As your skin begins to repair itself, you should notice dryness, itching, and flaking diminish, revealing a smoother and brighter complexion. 

In Summary

There are many causes of dry, bumpy, or rough skin. To effectively treat these common skin concerns, you must first know your Baumann Skin Type so that your dermatologist can accurately assess the underlying cause of your bumpy, rough skin and prescribe the proper treatment products and daily skincare regimen to prevent the problem in the future. 

Remember that rough, bumpy skin can be caused or worsened by environmental factors such as sweating in tight clothing, using the wrong shaving techniques, and dehydration caused by sun exposure. Because of this, it is important to combine the proper treatment products with healthy lifestyle habits to maintain soft, smooth, healthy skin.

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