I have a confession to make: Not only do I struggle with blackheads and oiliness on my T-zone, but I also notice that the pores on my legs can be a bit dark. Normally I wouldn’t care—because my legs are rarely bare, thanks to New York’s eight-month winter—but wearing leggy shorts and dresses can make me feel a little self-conscious now that it’s summer. Ugh.
After a little research online, turns out that I’m not the only one struggling with chicken skin or more prettily named, strawberry legs. While strawberry legs could totally be the title of a hit country song (a follow up to Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine,” perhaps?), they’re exactly what they sound like: dark spots or black dots on your legs that resemble the skin and seeds of a strawberry. The official medical term is keratosis pilaris, and those black seed-like dots are actually open pores harboring oil, dirt, or bacteria after shaving, Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist based in New York City, tells Health.
Although they’re harmless, strawberry legs are, unfortunately, pretty common. The good news is that the condition is easy to prevent and is treatable. Below, dermatologists share tips and products on how to get rid of strawberry legs for good.
What causes strawberry legs
The skin creates a buildup of a protein called keratin—the same building block for hair, skin, and nails—and the keratin creates a plug that blocks the hair follicle, leading to small bumps, explains Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. “The plug can also trigger inflammation in the skin, which is what causes the redness around each hair follicle,” she adds. Furthermore, the hair follicles can become irritated by sweat and rubbing, so wearing loose clothing and keeping skin cool and dry can help. In some cases, individual spots may become inflamed, so don’t pick at these spots, since that can lead to irritation and even permanent scars, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Keratosis pilaris manifests most often on the back of upper arms, but many people can also have the small, hard bumps on their thighs, legs, and even their backside. Folliculitis is another condition that can appear similarly and is triggered by inflamed and irritated hair follicles on the thighs and legs, Dr. Nazarian adds. Both conditions are very common, and not dangerous, but can be occasionally itchy or painful. However, people are usually just bothered by the cosmetic appearance.
Although it is considered a genetic condition, we don’t know why some people get keratosis pilaris and others don’t, Dr. Nazarian points out. We also don’t know why it happens in some areas of the body and not others. She does note that people with sensitive skin, like those with eczema, are more likely to have and show symptoms of keratosis pilaris.
The best dermatologist-approved treatments
Combining strategies to prevent strawberry legs and implementing the right products into your skincare routine can help treat keratosis pilaris, if you already have it.
Invest in a good exfoliator, since ingredients that reduce the appearance of pores can also help treat keratosis pilaris, Dr. Zeichner suggests. Look for products that feature glycolic or salicylic acid, which ease inflammation, unclog pores, and exfoliate dead cells from the skin. Dr. Zeichner’s pick: Neutrogena Pore Refining Exfoliating Cleanser ($7; amazon.com), a pore-refining cleanser that penetrates to remove dirt, oil, and makeup for a smoother, healthier complexion. Dr. Jaliman likes CeraVe SA Cream for Rough and Bumpy Skin ($17; amazon.com), because it contains salicylic acid to gently dissolve keratin sans irritation. She’s also a fan of Glytone Exfoliating Body Lotion ($43; amazon.com), which boasts glycolic acid to exfoliate dead skin and help with the uneven texture associated with strawberry legs.
Use a gentle cream when shaving—like Dove Body Mousse ($6; walmart.com)—and a razor or epilator with less blades (two blades is ideal) to avoid further irritation, Dr. Nazarian advises. Slather on moisturizer afterwards with ingredients like colloidal oatmeal or ceramides, which help soothe and protect skin to minimize the appearance of dark spots, Dr. Zeichner says. He recommends Aveeno Skin Relief Moisture Repair Cream ($12; amazon.com), which provides all-day hydration and is also fragrance-free and non-comedogenic, so it won’t irritate skin or clog pores further.
“The most common mistake I see my patients making is trying to “scrub” the bumps off, or using a rough loofah to exfoliate the bumps away,” Dr. Nazarian tells us. While this technique is a temporary fix—it will dislodge the keratin plugs—rough exfoliation can inflame skin and hair more, ultimately causing redness and making the condition even more noticeable, she adds. The best way to treat keratosis pilaris is to wash your skin with a gentle cleanser, pat the skin dry, and apply a daily cream or lotion with salicylic or glycolic acid that will dissolve the keratin plugs without irritating your skin further.
If you’re looking down at your strawberry legs and wondering if they’ll last forever, the answer is no, they’re not permanent. Continuous use of these creams and lotions will certainly help smooth skin and minimize redness, and can cure strawberry legs over time. However, the bumps may reappear once treatment is discontinued. Dr. Nazarian reminds her patients not to get discouraged, since many people grow out of the condition and it typically lessens with age.