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And when I say “chicken skin,” I DON’T mean the delicious kind that actually comes on a chicken. I mean the “chicken skin”-ish, red, firm, zit-like-but-not-quite chicken skin bumps that can appear on the backs of the arms, the legs, and elsewhere on your body.
Even before my acne-prone skin and eczema, one of the first things that improved when I put myself on a comprehensive skin-healing plan (find more info here) were those annoying patches of Keratosis Pilaris on the backs of my arms.
These bumps are caused by dis-functional keratinization. All this means is that skin cells are multiplying faster than they’re shedding, or they’re not shedding properly.
(Remember that old computer game, Lemmings? When they all clumped up at the edge of a cliff and fell off, one at a time? Yeah. Kinda like that. Or maybe I’m thinking of a different game. I dunno. Never mind.)
Taking the shedding issue at face value, you’d probably be advised to either exfoliate more (whether with a physical exfoliating scrub or a chemical scrub meant to loosen “sticky” skin cells, like an Alpha Hydroxy Acid scrub).
But that’s like putting a band-aid on a bloody nose (sorry, gross image). It’s not really the complete approach, and it’s not really solving the problem.
KP is an INTERNAL problem that manifests EXTERNALLY. Often, it’s a sign of vitamin A deficiency, but even that can be a manifestation of other things. Using only external strategies – like exfoliation – won’t tackle the root issue!
I talk about this in the Purely Primal Skincare Guide, but I get TONS of questions about KP through this blog as well, so I thought it was time to post about it – because the approach is VERY simple and super effective!
Here’s what you might need to address. Which one (or which ones) apply to you? Strategize accordingly!
1) A vitamin A deficiency.
What’s happenin': Because vitamin A plays a major role in keratinization, KP is a hallmark sign of vitamin A deficiency – a lack of PRE-FORMED vitamin A in the diet. It’s a myth that we can get all our vitamin A from plants; in fact, plants contain a vitamin A PRE-CURSOR called beta-carotene. The FDA, in their infinite
ridonkulocity wisdom, allows beta-carotene to be labeled as vitamin A so the myth that they’re the same just won’t die.
In perfect circumstances, free of stress, pressure, or nutrient deficiency, the body will convert SOME beta-carotene to vitamin A.
First person to have reached that level of perfection gets ten cool points. Basically, you’d have to live on a cloud in la-la land being fed frozen grapes by Jon Snow all day.
Ain’t gonna happen.
The only sources of pre-formed vitamin A are animal products. Healthy animals eating their natural diets are fabulous sources. If you’ve got KP, chances are you need to fortify your diet with good sources of vitamin A. Keep in mind that I’m speaking from the platform of an already solid, nutrient-dense diet, and the prior elimination of problematic grains and oils.
What to do: Start looking for opportunities to add more pre-formed A to your diet. Liver (especially cow’s liver), egg yolks, raw full-fat milk, and Cod Liver Oil are fantastic sources. (Liver and CLO being the most powerful choice.) NEVER rely on a processed supplement for your vitamin A.
Now, all that said, it’s also important to consider vitamins D and K2, which work with vitamin A in our bodies. If you’re going to add vitamin A to your diet, or if you already take in vitamin A but aren’t seeing results, consider that it might be:
2) An imbalance of vitamins A, D and K2.
What’s happenin': If you’re adding sources of extra vitamin A, it’s also important to be sure that you don’t do this to the exclusion of vitamins D and K2. These nutrients work WITH vitamin A, and it’s vital to keep a balance. If you already get lots of vitamin A, consider whether you need to work on including sources of vitamins D and K2.
(One of the reasons I like this fermented Cod Liver Oil/Butter Oil Blend is because it’s an excellent source of all three nutrients. It’s not cheap, but a little goes a long way.)
In nature, these things would balance themselves out – but us humans have found many ways to mess with nature. Sunlight is the body’s best source of vitamin D, and it’s only generated by the action of UVB rays on the skin. But most of us avoid the sun or sit behind windows in the office and in the car, which block UVB and allow UVA – the bad rays – in.
What to do: Consider getting some sunlight for a good whack of vitamin D. (This book, except for its old myth-based advice on vitamin A, is a good resource.)
Unfortunately, I’m not fully convinced of the efficacy of vitamin D3 supplements, including drops. If they work for you, that’s awesome, but your body’s natural vitamin D is vitamin D sulfate, and I believe that “sulfate” part is incredibly important. You can get D sulfate from the sun and egg yolks!
Consider drinking some grass-fed raw milk, if you can tolerate it, which is a great source of vitamins A, D, AND K2. Lard and sardines are good sources of vitamin D as well, though egg yolks and sunshine are tops. My favorite Ghee is a great K2 source for those who can’t do the milk solids in butter. Good news: all these things taste fantastic!
If you’re already set on points 1 and 2, you may just need to exercise patience and persistence. Your KP should improve over time! If you’re not so sure, though, it may be time to consider:
3) A digestive insufficiency.
What’s happenin': If you’re getting plenty of good nutrition, the issue may be related to what your body is DOING with that nutrition. Are you digesting and assimilating nutrients properly, and are they getting where they need to go?
This is, quite honestly, too much to write in a lowly blog post, and it requires a really extensive discussion of every part of the digestive cascade to evaluate what might be going on.
Honorable mention: One nutrient that’s also vital to skin health is zinc, and zinc interacts with vitamin A as well. If your stomach acid is low, zinc won’t get where it needs to go, which can affect the entire onward cascade of nutrient interactions. A great source of zinc is oysters.
What about topical strategies?
I don’t recommend physical exfoliation with rough substances like apricot kernels, rough loofahs, or even baking soda.
That said, I DO recommend daily gentle dry-brushing.
It’s true that Alpha Hydroxy Acids might help a bit, but you’ll get much more mileage out of approaching nutrition and digestion first. From there, for a more holistic topical approach, you might want to spritz some unfiltered Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar on the area twice daily (ACV is a natural source of certain types of AHAs). I buy by the gallon, but you can buy in smaller quantities as well.
For extreme cases, you can also try a short-term intervention with a safe, lower-concentration (10% MAX) glycolic “peel,” which is safe WHEN USED EXACTLY AS DIRECTED. This brand appears to be free of unnecessary chemicals. I highly encourage you to do more research before using any peels, and be ABSOLUTELY SURE to spot-test!
If you need more guidance, or help optimizing digestive function while learning new strategies for healing the skin, check out the Purely Primal Skincare Guide.
Thanks for reading!