Keratosis pilaris is a minor condition that causes small bumps, much like goose bumps, on the skin. It’s sometimes called “chicken skin.” On the other hand, psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that often affects more than the surface of the skin. It’s associated with psoriatic arthritis and is linked to other conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and Crohn’s disease.

Although different, both of these conditions appear in patches on the skin. Keratin, a type of protein, plays a role in both these and many other skin conditions. Keratin is important to the structure of your:

  • skin
  • hair
  • mouth
  • nails

Both conditions also tend to run in families, but the similarities end there. Read on for more information on both conditions, their differences, and their treatments.

Psoriasis is one of several autoimmune disorders in which your immune system mistakenly attacks harmless substances within the body. The response, in the case of psoriasis, is your body speeding up skin cell production.

In people with psoriasis, skin cells reach the surface of the skin in four to seven days. This process takes about a month in people who don’t have psoriasis. These immature skin cells, called keratinocytes, build up on the skin’s surface. From there, these cells form raised patches covered by layers of silver scales.

Although there are several different types of psoriasis, plaque psoriasis is the most common. About 80 percent of people with the condition have plaque psoriasis. Many people who have plaque psoriasis also have nail psoriasis. With this condition, nails become pitted and crumble easily. Eventually, some nails may be lost.

The type of psoriasis and severity of the disease determine which approach to take for treatment. Initial treatments include topical medications, such as:

  • corticosteroid creams and ointments
  • salicylic acid
  • vitamin D derivatives, such as Calcipotriene
  • retinoids

Ultraviolet light therapies and photochemotherapy are also used to treat more severe cases of psoriasis.

Research is still being done to find the cause of the condition. Studies have suggested that there’s a genetic component. It’s estimated that a child has a 10 percent chance of getting psoriasis if one parent has it. If both parents have psoriasis, the chance increases to 50 percent.

Keratosis pilaris happens when keratin builds up in hair follicles. Hair follicles are small sacs under the skin from which your hair grows. When keratin plugs the sacs, the skin develops bumps that look like tiny whiteheads or goose bumps. Keratin is also the main meal for the fungi that cause:

Generally, the bumps are the same color as your skin. These bumps may appear red on fair skin or dark brown on dark skin. Keratosis pilaris often develops in patches that have a rough, sandpapery feel. These patches appear most commonly on the:

  • cheeks
  • upper arms
  • buttocks
  • thighs

The condition tends to become worse in the winter, when your skin is more likely to be dry. Although anyone can get keratosis pilaris, it’s more commonly seen in young children. Doctors don’t know what causes the condition, though it tends to run in families.

Keratosis pilaris isn’t harmful, but it’s difficult to treat. Applying moisturizing cream containing urea or lactic acid several times a day may be beneficial. You may also be prescribed a medication to exfoliate your skin. These medications usually contain ingredients such as:

In some instances, your doctor may recommend using a corticosteroid cream or laser treatment.

Symptoms of psoriasisSymptoms of keratosis pilaris
thick, raised patches with whitish silver flakespatches of small bumps that feel like sandpaper to the touch
patches often become red and inflamedskin or bumps may become pink or red, or in dark skin, bumps may be brown or black
skin on the patches is flaky and sheds easilyvery little shedding of skin occurs beyond the typical flaking associated with dry skin
commonly found on the elbows, knees, scalp, lower back, palms of the hand, and feet; in more severe cases, patches may join and cover a greater portion of the bodytypically appears on the upper arms, cheeks, buttocks, or thighs
patches itch and can become painfulminor itching may occur

Neither plaque psoriasis nor keratosis pilaris require immediate medical attention. You may not need to be treated for keratosis pilaris at all, unless you find it uncomfortable or you’re unhappy with your skin’s appearance.

Psoriasis, particularly more severe cases, does warrant a visit to your doctor to control the symptoms. Your doctor will work with you to determine if you need treatment and decide which is the best treatment for you.