Bumps on Back of Arms: White, Itchy, Small, Causes, Get Rid

If you have little red or black bumps in patches on your upper arms, backside, or thighs that resemble chicken skin and occasionally itch, you probably have a genetic skin disorder called keratosis pilaris. Keratosis pilaris is common, especially among people who already have dry skin or eczema. The cause is an accumulation of keratin, a protective protein in your skin.

Why do I have Bumps on Back of my Arms?

Keratin may build up because of underlying conditions on your arm skin, but it also occurs in otherwise healthy people. When it accumulates, keratin blocks hair follicles and forms the scaly, acne-like bumps on back of arms, which measure about 1 mm to 2 mm.

Keratosis pilaris can occur at any age, but it’s more common in young children. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Painless tiny bumps, typically on the upper arms, thighs, cheeks or buttocks
  • Dry, rough skin in the areas with bumps
  • Worsening when seasonal changes cause low humidity and skin tends to be drier
  • Sandpaper-like bumps resembling goose flesh

If you have little red or black bumps in patches on your upper arms, backside, or thighs that resemble chicken skin and occasionally itch, you probably have a genetic skin disorder called keratosis pilaris. Much like acne, this skin disorder affects 50-80% of adolescents and roughly 40% of adults although no one knows the exact cause.
Those prone to eczema, asthma, and allergies are more likely to be afflicted with this annoying condition. Also, up to 50% of those who struggle with keratosis pilaris have a family history of it in their lineage.

What are these bumps on back of arms?

Keratosis pilaris has a few different forms: It can range from pink to red bumps on the cheeks, and arms to small red bumps that aren’t irritated, to pimple-like bumps that are inflamed and red. Overall, regardless of the type, these bumpy rough spots are clogged pores where skin cells have become hardened inside the pore and inflammation occurs.
However, there is no available cure or universally effective treatment; though it is generally well accepted that unclogging pores and reducing inflammation can make a significant difference to this condition.

Bumps on Back of Arms Causes

You might have spotted these skin bumps marks on your face, buttocks, or thighs. Sandpapery and resembling goose bumps, the marks are harmless and painless, though occasionally itchy. The bumps can occur as red or pink when inflamed, and often in clusters or patches. They tend to clear up during summer months or pregnancy and flare up in the dry air seasons of winter. Many cases of keratosis pilaris resolve on their own over time.
Keratosis pilaris as they are known results from the buildup of keratin which is a hard protein that protects skin from harmful substances and infection. The keratin forms a scaly plug that blocks the opening of the hair follicle. Usually many plugs form, causing patches of rough, bumpy skin.
It is not known exactly why keratin builds up. But it may occur in association with genetic inheritance or with other skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis. Dry skin often worsens this condition.
But, first consider whether these likely culprits might be the cause of your red, itchy, irritated bumps on back of arms’ skin.

Other causes

Allergic reactions to personal care products
This involves the cosmetics, skincare, hair care, and even your laundry detergent. We come into contact with so many potential allergens every day, that there have several possibilities for your skin to become irritated. People tend to be allergic to preservatives, and some are more allergenic than others.
It is common for people to be allergic to certain fragrances, too. See if you can find a common thread in the products you use, and if it is just one thing, stop using it. But if it becomes more of an issue and you can’t figure out what’s causing it, you might need to get patch tested, which is when an allergist introduces you to small amounts of common allergens to ascertain which ones trigger a reaction.
This is a general term that is used to describe many different types of inflammation of the skin, or dermatitis, and can appear anywhere on the body, though it is most commonly found in the elbow creases or behind the knees. These bumps on back of arms can look very different from person-to-person, but they are usually intensely itchy, red, and dry.
Keratosis pilaris
Also called chicken skin, this common skin condition is a variant of eczema. It causes skin cells to cluster around hair follicles, trapping the hair underneath and causing a raised bump. KP typically shows up on the backs of the arms and thighs in large patches of rough, raised skin. It is not always itchy, but it can be sometimes. Depending on the person’s skin tone, these bumps are usually red or brown. It is chronic, but can be managed with products that include chemical exfoliators like glycolic acid and lactic acid.
Rubbing from fabrics
Wearing clothes that rub you in all the wrong places can cause itchy contact dermatitis bumps on back arms and knees too. Just that friction factor of the fabric can be extremely irritating. It often happens if you are working out and your clothes start to slide against your sweaty skin. If you notice an itchy red rash after hitting the gym, check if it falls where the seams of athletic wear lies. Cotton is typically not irritating, but bulky, scratchy materials like wool often are especially around your neck.
Bug bites
These bites usually show up as one or a few distinct red bumps, but many people can develop a generalized allergic reaction after getting bit by certain bugs. This is commonly seen with mosquito bites, and presents as a bumpy, itchy red rash around the area you were bit. If you wake up with itchy red bites you can’t explain, it could be a sign of bed bugs in your beddings.
These bites typically appear on skin that’s exposed while you’re sleeping, like the arms, shoulders, neck, and face. They can also cause an itchy red rash in people who are sensitive. If you think you could have a tick bite, look for the telltale target-like appearance and see a doctor, as it could develop into lime disease. You can treat normal bug bites on your own with hydrocortisone cream, but if it looks infected or if it is leaking pus, see a doctor.
Heat rash
It causes itchy red bumps on back arms and even general skin that may also feel prickly and tingle, more so in areas where sweat becomes trapped beneath clogged pores. “Heat rash can appear in different forms. Sometimes it is red bumps, but sometimes it’s tiny clear blisters. The rash is common in hot, humid weather, and usually goes away on its own once the skin is cooled down.
Allergic reactions to food or medicine
Eating a food or medicine you’re allergic to can cause you to break out in hives, an itchy red rash that appears as welts. The difference with this type of allergy is that, the rash can appear anywhere on your body, versus a skin irritant that causes a rash right where it touched you. Since allergies to foods and medications can be extremely dangerous, it is important to get checked out if you have hives or in some way can connect something you ingested to a rash.
Sun allergy
The most common type of bumps on back arms causes is sun poisoning. Sometimes people have been inside all winter and go into the sun and break out in an itchy red rash. This is your body having a reaction to a sudden burst of sun exposure. It usually happens on the forearms or other places that have been covered for months and then all of a sudden exposed to the sun. It does not happen to everybody, but some people have some sort of allergy to it.
While there is no cure for those bumps on back arms, you can improve the appearance of your skin:

  • Since dry skin can worsen the condition, keep yourself – and your skin – well hydrated. Drink plenty of water and use a humidifier in your home on drier days.
  • Take short, warm water showers, since hot water can strip natural protective oils from your skin.
  • Use gentle soaps or cleansers, avoiding potentially irritating ingredients like detergent or fragrance.
  • After showering or bathing, lightly pat-dry your skin before applying a cream to seal in the moisture.
  • Choose a moisturizer containing alpha-hydroxyl acids or urea.
  • Hydrocortisone cream (0.5% to 1%) can also relieve itchiness.
  • To prevent scarring, infection, or redness, do not scrub or pick at the bumps.

Keratosis pilaris can be a difficult condition to achieve satisfactory treatment results. If you are concerned about the appearance of your skin, contact a dermatologist, who may prescribe a stronger medicated cream or ointment.
When to see a doctor
Treatment for keratosis pilaris usually is not necessary. But if you are concerned about the appearance of your or your child’s skin, consult your family doctor or a specialist in skin diseases. He/ she can often make a diagnosis by examining the skin and the characteristic scaly bumps.

White Bumps on Arms

If you have tiny white or slightly red bumps on your upper arms or thighs, you may be among the 40% of the population that has a condition known as keratosis pilaris as discussed above. It is so common, that if you do not have it, chances are that someone you know has them.
This condition is a benign problem in which keratin, a protein in the skin, forms hard plugs within the hair follicles. KP may appear similar to goose bumps and often has sandpaper feel. It runs in families and is more common in children and the adolescents. Keratosis Pilaris usually worsens in winter seasons due to lower humidity. Again, although harmless, some may find it cosmetically unappealing.

Itchy Bumps on Arms

Regardless of your skin type, chances are you have had an itchy, red, bumpy rash at one time or another at the back of your arms. It’s like the international sign of skin irritation.
If it is not affecting your daily life or covering whole body, and you are not feeling sick otherwise, chances are it is nothing to worry about and will clear up on its own. Treating bumps on back of arms with over-the-counter hydrocortisone itch relief cream until it goes away may be sufficient. But if it lasts for over two weeks, or goes away and comes back or if your itch cream is not bringing you relief, it is a good idea to visit your dermatologist, as you might need a stronger, more targeted medication to clear things up.

Small Bumps on back of Arms that Itch

There is no cure for those bumps that appear at the back of your arms, but there are methods to deal with it. It is shorts and sleeveless season! And that means about 40% of us will notice hard little bumps scattered on our arms, shoulders, backs, butts or thighs that typically don’t come with other symptoms aside from occasional itchiness.
The annoying yet harmless condition is known as keratosis pilaris. A variant of eczema, the bumps on back of arms tend to plague people who have a family history of atopic dermatitis or dry skin marked by scaly patches. Dry weather aggravates keratosis pilaris, so you may see more bumps during the winter seasons, but heat and humidity can also trigger the condition.
It is more of a bother in the summer when we’re wearing skin-baring styles, and the last thing you want is chicken skin at the beach.
The small bumps on back of arms problem starts when extra skin cells cluster around hair follicles, causing a knob to form and elevate. The hair can then get trapped underneath the cells, sometimes turning into a brown or red dot that you can see in the middle of the bump. Unfortunately, there is no cure or way to entirely stop the process yet.
Occasionally, keratosis pilaris can get better as you get older. And if you do not outgrow it, certain strategies can help you keep things under control and your skin looking much better.

How to Get Rid of Bumps on Back of Arms

There are few skin conditions more annoying than those red, itchy bumps on the back of your arms. And this time of year, they’re out in full force. These bumps, or keratosis pilaris, are aggravated by hot showers that dry out skin. We typically spend more time indoors with the dry heat, which can cause the skin bumps to become irritated.
What Doesn’t Work
Picking –Now, we all know you’re not supposed to pick skin, but some people think that picking these non-acne pimples is harmless. Picking is out of the question and can lead to unsightly scarring that’s far worse than the bump you started out with, so resist the urge.

Scrubbing – Rub all you want, but you will only end up with bumps that are now irritated and red. The problem is not the top surface of skin, but the building up of cells underneath the surface, so no amount of superficial exfoliation will clear these bumps on back of arms.
What Works
Chemical exfoliators – Both glycolic acid and lactic acid can help a little bit, more so in the form of a wash. You can as well use a good exfoliating cleanser with 15 percent glycolic acid.
Retinoid – topical retinoid may help improve the condition by going deep below the surface of skin to exfoliate cells.
Moisturizers – To instantly make bumps look and feel better, use a deeply hydrating moisturizer. This will definitely help soften the feel and look of bumps, though keep in mind that it won’t help prevent the condition from forming if you’re genetically prone.
Gentle cleansing – Harsh soaps can dry out skin and exacerbate the rough texture of bumps on back of arms. Using a hydrating soap free of detergent may help. Always be sure to moisturize bump-prone areas within a minute of stepping out of the shower.
Sunscreen – While sunscreen won’t prevent the condition from forming, it can make a significant difference in preventing bumps from worsening and looking more obvious. The sun’s damaging rays are known to aggravate keratosis pilaris. Wear sunscreen of at least SPF 30 every day to encourage smoother skin.
Remember, these bumps are extremely common, so do not feel so self-conscious about them. By incorporating these simple habits that are good for your overall health too, you can feel more confident putting on that tank top or sundress this summer with the best accessory there is.
Open up your pores with warm water.
Giving your skin a chance to breathe and rehydrate by exposing it to warm water before treating the bumps on back of arms is essential. Beware of too hot showers, as Polder mentioned, which will counteract any positive effects.
Wash with salicylic acid – salicylic acid can be very helpful in breaking down the bumps. You can try washing with a salicylic acid-infused cleanser, or using impregnated pads or toners with salicylic acid once a day.
Scrub but not much hard
Keratosis pilaris bumps are hardened dead skin and so to get rid of them you need to exfoliate to remove that dead skin. The best way to exfoliate is to combine physical exfoliation with chemical exfoliation. However, be careful when choosing your scrubbing tool. Using a loofah or a grainy scrub might temporarily feel good, but these may actually worsen the condition.
Use the right lotion.
Next, you’ll want to use a lotion specifically geared toward stopping KP, but you’ll want to leave your skin slightly damp before application. Moisturizing only happens when you trap water in the dead skin cell layer by applying moisturizers after you shower or bathe. Applying them to completely dry skin won’t work.
Stay hydrated.
The final way to keep those red bumps at bay is to stay on top of your hydration. Drink water throughout the day or tea, if you are too chilly for something cold and use a humidifier to keep your skin from getting too dry.
Exfoliation to unclog pores is at the top of the list of treatments. You can use active ingredients would be lactic or glycolic acid that can help exfoliate skin cells, but these only work on the surface. To get to the root of the problem you need a beta hydroxyl acid product with the active ingredient salicylic acid and a pH low enough for exfoliation to occur.
One other interesting aspect of BHA is that it has antimicrobial properties, which kills the bacteria that may be making matters worse. Plus, because salicylic acid is related to aspirin, it also has anti-inflammatory properties. Salicylic acid is a brilliant answer to eliminating these red bumps on back of arms.
Lasers for Keratosis Pilaris

If topical treatments are not working to resolve your keratosis pilaris you may want to consult a dermatologist about laser treatments. Various options are available, including photo – pneumatic therapy (PPx), intense pulsed light (IPL), pulsed dye laser, long-pulsed alexandrite laser, and the ND: YAG laser.
Laser or light-emitting treatments have an impressive-to-decent rate of improvement, most notably for persistent redness and, in those with darker skin tones, brown spots from where the bumps used to be, with overall surface texture improvement.
Lasers and light-emitting treatments are more option in the battle against those pesky red bumps and for stubborn or recurring bumps on back of arms that do not respond well to topical treatments, they can be well worth the time and money.
More references

  1. Keratosis pilaris: http://cosmeticscop.com/2016/08/22/keratosis-pilaris-treat-those-bumps-on-the-back-of-your-arms/
  2. Symptoms and causes of bumps at the back of your arms: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/keratosis-pilaris/symptoms-causes/dxc-20168352