No more chicken skin: BEAT Keratosis Pilaris NATURALLY!

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Even before my acne-prone skin and eczema, one of the first things that improved when I put myself my “Skintervention plan” was those annoying patches of Keratosis Pilaris on the backs of my arms.

Even if you don’t know what KP is, you’ve probably seen it before. Those 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.

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 right approach, and it’s not really solving the problem. But to someone who doesn’t have a full understanding of what’s happening, I suppose it might make sense.

KP is an INTERNAL problem that manifests EXTERNALLY. Usually, 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 Skintervention Guide, but I’m not tryin’ to hide my advice behind a pay wall, I promise! I get TONS of questions about KP, 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. (And even if it did, it’s still a partial conversion at best.)

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. If you need more guidance on this, check out the Skintervention Guide.

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. The Skintervention Guide devotes a huge chunk to addressing digestive function.

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 dry-brushing, which I consider to be different from standard exfoliation.

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!

Comments

  1. Danielle C says

    I have had KP all of my life, it has gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. I’m 45. My diet is clean and I have tried for years the things you recommend. The only thing that works for me is MSM. I take 9,0000g daily and I have no new spots. I have tested it over and over again (with travel, etc.).

    • says

      Great comment! MSM is not only a sulfur compound (as I stated above, sulfur is CRITICAL and part of the reason I like sun exposure for vitamin D sulfate) but it also actually helps the cells become more receptive to the nutrition they’re given! It’s possible MSM is helping all that good nutrition get where it needs to go. I’ve recommended Dr. Ron’s MSM to a few folks http://bit.ly/DrRonsMSM as well as the MSM drops for topical use. http://bit.ly/DrRonsMSMDrops An added point to this post could definitely be more on nutrient co-factors like MSM. Thanks for the comment Danielle!

      • Tara Johnson says

        Can I use MSM on a 6 year old? We started about 1 month ago with FCLO and butter oils and are about to go gluten free. She only drinks raw milk.

        • says

          Hi Tara! I cannot advise for or against with regards to your little one, as I only specialize in adult skincare – but I wouldn’t be surprised if whatever you’re looking to improve does improve drastically after you’ve gone gluten/grain free. :)

      • Zen_Trekkie says

        Sadly, I live in WA state, and can only get “natural vitamin D” only 3 months out of the year. I felt crappy for YEARS until I supplemented. Surprisingly, when I had blood work done for fatigue/general malaise, my D came back fine – perhaps I need more than the average human (also taking into account that the minimums are set at that point to avoid deficiency diseases, not promote optimal health).
        If I’m forced to supplement, which one do you recommend?
        I also have KP, have done most (if not all) of these things, and have seen little difference. It is on both my legs and arms, has spread over the years – I’ve had it since I was a teenager in Florida (and trust me, there I got plenty of sun!)

  2. Katie says

    I have had KP for as long as I can remember. I only recently found out I have celiac disease and have multiple deficiencies. I have been gluten free/paleo for a year and half. Minor improvement in my D levels due to supplementation but still very low. I take FCLO but it hasn’t made a dent in these issues. Any suggestions for people who are still not absorbing vitamins in whole healthy foods?

      • Katie says

        Thanks! I will. In the end the condition of my skin on my arms isn’t my major concern. I am just using it as an indicator of what is going on internally. I already feel much better than I did before. You are right. I will try to be patient :)

    • says

      Cod Liver oil can be helpful, but it can’t fix problems with diet, digestion, or habitual topical irritation. Resolving acne requires a multi-pronged approach in my opinion. You might like my Skintervention Guide – it’s an investment but a fabulous framework for understanding why there are no quick solitary fixes, and how nutrition, digestion and skin care interact. (If I may toot my own horn :) SkinterventionGuide.com

  3. MelLava says

    thanks for this article, very informative. I have “chicken skin” right underneathe my eyes. I started paleo about a year ago, i know it’s a long journey but i’m grateful that i did start :) I also switched to only organic produce and country meat (I’m Inuk heritage, and i like to eat all the organs of our catch over here) and i’ve noticed a big difference in my body, more energy, not to mention i lost about 20 lbs in my first month after switching to only organic produce. My naturopath said that it was due to inflammation.

  4. Elizabeth says

    I had KP for years and tried things like glycolic acid, but nothing worked. i started supplementing with fermented cod oil like a year ago for general health reasons…Meanwhile i had given up on KP and forgot about it, but a few months ago i was reading about the vitamin A connection, so i checked my arms to see if i’ve had any improvements and wow, i was shocked tthat my KP was all gone. I look at my arms every couple wks or so now and stare at them all amazed. It makes me wonder what else that Cod Oil / vitamin A is doing for me. :)

  5. Miriam says

    Fantastic article! I’m taking FCLO per your recommendation and my KP is nearly gone and I haven’t even gone through a whole bottle. This is the only change I’ve made!!

    Along a similar note, I am very curious to know your thoughts on lanula health (moons/slivers on nails). Other than my thumbs and pointers, I don’t have visible moons despite being paleo. I see unhealthy people with robust moons. I can’t find a correlation and can’t find an answer online. I would love your take!! Thanks for all you do!

  6. Amy says

    Thank you for this very informative post. I have been paleo for more than a year and while I saw improvement in my kp at first, it isn’t completely gone. I have resisted taking the fclo that my hubs keeps in our fridg due to the taste. But I see you linked to a capsule, so I have decided to buy that and give it a try.

    I am wondering if there is some sort of blood test one can take to see what vitamin and nutrient levels are in the body? If so, What sort of practitioner should I look for to do this? I pretty much avoid doctors like the plague…so hopefully that isn’t the answer. And I have yet to find a nutritionist, other than bloggers online, that I trust.

    If one cannot/does not get tested, then is it basically trial and error to figure this out? It feels quite overwhelming to take this approach.

    Thank you!

  7. Hallie says

    Hello Liz- I do not have KP, but do have a question. I have previously taken the FCLO/Butter Oil Blend capsules-but because my husband and I both take it and I was told to get the same dosage as a 1/2 tsp of the liquid we would need to each take 6 capsules a day, which was quite expensive, so we switched to the liquid FCLO and have not been taking the liquid butter oil. What is your opinion regarding the addition of the butter oil? We do take 100mg of K2, but just wondering what your thoughts are on just the FCLO. Thanks Much!

  8. Jacqui says

    I have had kp all my life and have been paleo for 6 months and after recently being diagnosed with autoimmune disease I have been AI paleo for just over a month. My kp has nearly all gone and for the first time in my life I have smooth (ish) upper arms! I wasn’t sure what had caused it to go but after reading your article now I know, as I am taking cod liver oil, vit D and a whole host of other vitamins my Dr has prescribed me. Great article!!!

  9. Whitney says

    Hi Liz – great stuff. I also have KP and have psoriasis in my ears. I’m currently using a steroid oil for the psoriasis – however, after reading the fine print – it is clear that it shouldn’t be used while pregnant or nursing. I have some time before that becomes a reality for me – but I’m wondering how relevant your above suggestions & book are to psoriasis. Thanks – Whitney

  10. Heather says

    Thank you again, Liz! Great post. I learned about this thru your Skintervention Guide. After only a week or slightly more of taking the cod liver oil/butter blend you had recommended, my KP on the back of my arms vanished as well. It was absolutely amazing to me as I, too, had tried multiple over the counter “supposed” remedies. Thank you once again for the information!!

  11. Amanda says

    After switching to goat milk soap (lactic acid dissolves keratin) and stop using sunscreen; my KP pretty much went away. Though I still one or two spots that come back. I’ll try the FCLO. Thanks for the info Liz!

  12. Julia Clare says

    I’ve been having wheat again, and the chicken skin is back on my arms. Along with achy joints and mild psoriasis. I also need to stay well away from Nightshades and sugar as well as gluten to have smooth arms and no thick cracking skin on my elbows. I couldn’t believe how smooth they were for a few months.. Time to get my health back on track and knock thoses contaminants out of my diet again. Social discomfort versus my own health, I’m putting me first again. (Doesn’t it piss people off?)

  13. Damaris says

    Unfortunately, I don’t digest meat very well, much less cow’s liver which used to be my favorite dish (with onions). I do eat a lot of eggs, and do depend on Vitamin A supplements. Any suggestions for a vegetarian/eggs/fish diet? Your posts are FABULOUS!!

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