How Do I Get Rid of My Winter Chicken Skin?

Photo: Corbis

Because there’s no such thing as a dumb beauty question, we’re reviving our beauty Q&A series.

Question: I have chicken skin that becomes worse in winter. How do I treat it without using expensive creams?

Answer: Exfoliating and moisturizing is the Windex of the beauty world — an all-purpose solution. Why does it seem like the answer to almost everything skin-related is to exfoliate and put moisturizer on it? Dermatologists Dr. Whitney Bowe and Dr. Linda Honet suggest that you do these very two things.

“Chicken skin” is a condition with the official name keratosis pilaris (KP). Dr. Bowe explains that it’s caused by cells sticking to hair follicles, creating a bumpy texture. Unfortunately, it’s chronic, meaning it never permanently goes away, but it can be treated so that the symptoms lesson. A genetic condition, it’s found in about 50 percent of people in the U.S. As Dr. Honet explains, KP can become exacerbated in winter because the cold weather causes moisture loss, but some patients also get it in the spring and summer because of allergens.

First, choose an exfoliator. Dr. Bowe recommends choosing a chemical exfoliator with salicylic or glycolic acid (like Neutrogena Body Clear Body Scrub or Glytone Exfoliating Body Wash), which will gently slough off the top layer of skin, but Dr. Honet likes starting with a mechanical one that jump-starts the exfoliation process. Since KP is chronic, you’ll need to exfoliate every day, lessening the frequency until you feel some of the bumpies starting to go away.

If you are a particularly hairy, Dr. Honet has a special solution: Trying out an exfoliating scalp treatment, which can get to the literal roots of the problem. She likes Restorsea Revitalizing Scalp Treatment (note that she is also on the Restorsea board), which is an enzymatic exfoliating treatment that targets only the dead layer of skin. Dr. Honet explains that chemical exfoliators tend to target both the inactive and active layers of skin, so some people, especially those with sensitive skin, can experience peeling and redness. She suggests that her clients apply the spray twice a day, gradually reducing use over time. But not all scalp treatments will work for KP, as some also contain alcohol, which can further dry out the skin.

After exfoliating, follow up with a fragrance-free body wash and a hydrating moisturizer (try Eucerin Professional Repair for Extremely Dry Skin). Don’t forget to lock in the moisturizer. Dr. Bowe explains, “The most important thing is to keep your skin hydrated, as cold, dry skin will suck the moisture from your skin.” The clock starts the minute you get out of the shower, and the loud, angry buzzer ends at five minutes. If you’ve listened to two Justin Bieber songs in a row post-shower and still haven’t put on moisturizer, your optimal time for hydration is over.

How Do I Get Rid of My Winter Chicken Skin?