Pimples on Arm or Keratosis Pilaris Bumps? How Do You Treat Them?

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Acne can form on the arms, buttocks, back, chest area and face. These bumps on arms come in many forms; pimples, blackheads, cysts, or itchy pimples.

Pimples and bumps on arms causes, treatments
Bumps on the arm

They can be small, pimple-like or they can be huge. They can appear “reddish” or “whitish.” Overall, these bumps can be a source of anxiety due to the rough texture that they give to the skin.

Some people report feeling itchy as a result of the pimples. To others, the occurrence of acne on the arms leads to a life of wearing long-sleeved tops in a bid to hide the rough skin.


Pimples on the arms occur as a result of pore blockage by excessive oil, hair, or bacteria. The skin contains sebaceous glands. These glands occur throughout the skin except the soles, feet, and palms. The glands release sebum, natural oil that lubricates the skin and protects it from bacteria.

However, excessive production of sebum can lead to pore blockage, which in turn leads to acne. Pore blockage can also attract bacteria leading to the formation of acne.

Dead skin cells, bacteria, and the excess oil produced by the sebaceous glands can get trapped by the hair follicles. As a result, the bacteria trapped in the follicles leads to inflammation thereby causing the itchy bumps on arms. The white bumps on arms form as a result of incomplete blockage of the pores. On the other hand, a full blockage leads to an outbreak of pus containing blackheads.

Another way acne can form on the arms is due to sweat. Long hair on the arms (particularly in men), can trap sweat leading to pore blockage. As a result, painful cystic acne, or zits can occur on the arms.

Acne is a common condition among young adults and teenagers. One likely cause of this is due to hormone activity in the body. In teenagers, the hormone production triggers excessive production of sebum.

Keratosis pilaris pimple-like bumps

Keratosis Pilaris is a condition that can lead to pimple-like bumps on the arms. This condition can occur on the arms and thighs (in some cases it can occur on the buttocks and face).

The condition occurs on dry skin characterized by scale build-up on the hair follicles. It is triggered by the abnormal keratinization of the upper side of the hair follicle (follicular infundibulum). Here, the protein keratin, which serves the purpose of protecting the skin from infection, builds-up and blocks the opening of the hair follicles.

Scientists have not yet identified what triggers keratinization. However, the tendency to develop Keratosis Pilaris is attributed to genetics.

The key symptom of Keratosis Pilaris is the appearance of bumps on upper arms. The bumps may appear red (hyperpigmented keratosis pilaris), brownish, or skin-colored.

The bumps are not itchy and the skin surrounding the bumps is generally dry. However, there is an inflammatory form of the condition (Keratosis Pilaris Rubra), which occurs as bright red bumps on arms.

The red bumps on arms tend to worsen with the changing seasons (especially in winter months). Keratosis Pilaris may occur in children. If it occurs in children, it may gradually disappear as they age.

Treatment for Keratosis pilaris

There is no treatment for KP (Keratosis Pilaris), but with proper maintenance, the condition can become less noticeable in time. You can consider options such as chemical peels, facials, or microdermabrasion.

On the other hand, develop a skincare routine using “skin-friendly” products. Instead of using a loofah or harsh scrubs, go for gentle cleansers or facial wash containing ingredients such as lactic acid, salicylic acid, and glycolic acids.

General treatments for bumps on arms include using a humidifier during winter. This will prevent the condition from worsening. Go for vitamin A treatments such as over the counter retinol and regularly apply them on the affected skin.

Apple Cider vinegar is another alternative that can help control the condition. Make a solution by using two parts of water and one part of apple cider vinegar. You can use a spray bottle to apply the mixture to your skin before taking a shower. Leave the solution on your skin for at most 20 minutes and then take a shower.

Sun pimples on arms (Actinic Keratosis) is viewed as early development of skin cancer. This condition can be treated with cryotherapy (freezing), topical chemotherapy, or photodynamic therapy. Regular use of sunscreen can help prevent pimples on arms.

Use sunscreen to prevent the condition from getting worse. Also, oils such as coconut oil and Melaleuca essential oil are great for controlling KP.

Treatment to getting rid of arm pimples

There are three steps to follow in the treatment of pimples on arms:

Step 1: Cleaning

It is advisable to wash your arms twice a day with mild soap and lukewarm water. Avoid irritating the skin by scrubbing. You can opt for antibacterial soaps such as Dial antibacterial soap. Go for soaps designed for sensitive skin.

Step 2: Medication

You can treat mild cases of acne using a cream containing benzoyl peroxide. It is advisable to apply the cream at night but remember to let it dry before wearing your pajamas. Clearasil is one over-the-counter cream that contains benzoyl peroxide. On the downside, the cream can lead to over-drying of the skin. Some experts suggest a combination of benzoyl peroxide with alpha-hydroxyl acids.

Step 3: Moisturize

Use an oil-free moisturizing lotion. An oil-free lotion will help prevent oil build-up while at the same time keep the skin hydrated. Moisturizers containing alpha hydroxyl acid, glycolic acid or lactic acid can be helpful.

Develop the habit of regularly changing your sheets to avoid irritating the skin. Lightweight cotton sheets are advisable.

Things to avoid in dealing with pimples on arms

  • Avoid over-using vitamin A treatments as it can damage the skin, making it parched and painful.
  • Avoid using lotions containing alcohol.
  • Avoid agents that can make the condition worse, such as stress, and clothes made from wool. Perfumes can also be irritating to the skin.
  • Avoid tight clothing.
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