Updated: Jun 30, 2021
This post is based on my personal experiences with Keratosis Pilaris and is designed for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, advice or treatment.
When I was younger, I was so self-conscious about the "chicken skin" on the backs of my upper arms I'd refuse to wear a singlet or tee-shirt even in the hottest summer weather. The bumps weren't itchy but I thought they were super unslightly and embarrassing. I didn't even know they had a name - Keratosis Pilaris (KP). Nothing I did seemed to help - no amount of exfoliation, moisturisers or special creams did a thing.
A few years later, I visited Thailand on my honeymoon with my husband. Coming from New Zealand where the sun is known for being quite harsh, I noticed it was definitely hotter but the sun was way less intense to the point my skin didn't burn once - instead it slowly went that a beautifully deep tan. Maybe because I was also more relaxed in that state of newly-wed bliss, I wore singlets without a care and went for lots of swims. Near the end of our trip, I rubbed my arms and in a moment of surprise wondered where the bumps had gone. I looked down and my skin was so smooth, I was amazed. No scrubs needed!
It is a rash that is due to the overproduction or build-up of keratin, a protective skin protein which is surrounded by a small halo of redness. It commonly appears on the backs of the arms but also on the cheeks and thighs. Like eczema, I have come to see that KP is perhaps more the external manifestation of a mostly internal issue rather than a true skin condition but it's interesting there does seem to be increased incidence with people that have asthma or eczema, so I do tend to see it as a general sign of inflammation. While it's commonly dismissed as a sign of gluten intolerance, I've also seen that it can be persistent even within a strictly gluten free diet (such as my daughter) which got me researching about how we are best placed to address KP from the inside out. These are the strategies that I have come up with which I hope you find helpful.
Low Vitamin D
One of the first things I considered when my KP resolved on honeymoon was how much sun I got without needing to apply layer after layer of sunscreen. I'm not a huge lover of summer to be honest, it's actually my least favourite season as I don't love the heat and humidity but this actually got me connecting the dots and realizing that often my skin often DID improve during summer but nothing as dramatic as that trip to Thailand.
Vitamin D is a hormone we produce in response to UVB rays to the skin, and almost all our needs can be met by adequate sunlight exposure. In countries like New Zealand where the sun is very strong, it is actually easy to become deficient in Vitamin D as we block UVB exposure through sunscreen and staying out of the sun. It's common these days to be told to take a synthetic Vitamin D supplement or a fortified food however I don't advocate for this approach as it's my understanding this can significantly impact the delicate mineral balance within the body, especially long term.
So responsible sun exposure (avoiding burning with short regular bursts to slowly build colour) is something I'd consider. If you do find you burn quickly, my anecdotal experience is finding that the less sugar I eat (even natural sugars such as fruit) to the point of almost none, with increasing my animal fats and proteins, the more resilient my skin became to the sun. My favourite sources of foods to help with Vitamin D are egg yolks, cod liver oil, lard and mushrooms.
Low Vitamin A
This plays a key role in skin health. Rather than beta-carotene, my preferred sources of pre-formed Vitamin A are egg yolks, seafood (especially sardines and salmon), liver, extra virgin cod liver oil, cheeses and raw cow's milk, ideally from the most ethical sources possible. Cows especially are very good at converting the beta-carotene from the plants they eat into Vitamin A, which is great news for us humans as this form is not so efficient for us.
When I notice the bumps are coming up, I make sure we start taking our Rosita Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil (read why I love this brand here) again. It's one of my favourite support products for a range of skin and gut health issues during the active healing phase (you don't need to take regularly during maintenance, just as and when you feel you need some extra help) so if you haven't tried already, I suggest you give it a go.
Another great option to try here is emu oil capsules because they contain Vitamins K2. Not cheap either but another incredible product. In fact I'm also a huge fan of applying organic emu oil to any kind of skin - problem or otherwise. It's my absolute favourite and does a great job at keeping the skin supple and nourished.
The balance of Vitamins A, D and K2 is key especially when you're taking ANY supplementary product, even food based, as there is a delicate dance we want to support rather than bulldoze.
Low Stomach Acid
Low stomach acid poses two potential problems - it may trigger a zinc deficiency which poses a problem as that is a vital nutrient for our skin and immune health, and it makes overall nutrient absorption and assimilation much harder than it needs to be. We can theoretically become well-fed but still unable to meet our body's nutrient needs.
To help with low stomach acid, you really do want to consider not drinking water while you eat (but drink plenty in between meals) and take an Apple Cider Vinegar shot in some warm water just before you do tuck into your meal to help stimulate the digestive process. Making sure you eat when you're actually hungry helps a lot here too.
Gluten and Grains
It's seems fairly well understood that KP worsens with gluten but also doesn't necessarily resolve with going gluten free. So what's the deal?
While I believe that the link between gluten and KP is not direct, I'm adding it in here so that we can refocus on the key issue - eating a real food diet based around nutrient dense foods that are easy to digest, contain fat soluble vitamins and don't tend to trigger an inflammatory response. While this can look different for some people, my basic template to start is a decent paleo style diet that is based around well nourished animal proteins and fats, seafood, vegetables, seasonal moderate fruit intake, nuts and seeds - avoiding gluten, grains, oats, pseudo-cereals, pasteurized dairy, processed alternative and refined sugars. Like eczema, KP can give be an individual journey in learning what YOU need. If you do find these strategies helpful, please do let me know. Good luck!
Emu Oil Capsules (Ingestion)
Emu Oil (Topical)
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Content in this website for informational purposes only and is not considered medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any medical or lifestyle changes.