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The No-Brainer Guide To Random Skin Bumps

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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Raise your hand if you've fallen into a WebMD rabbit hole every time a new, weird bump shows up on your body. The cooler-weather months are prime time for your skin to start an epic freakout, which often result in bumps. Why? Cooler weather triggers majorly dry skin — and dry skin tends to look lumpy, flaky, and uneven.

But not all bumps are created equal, and not every bump calls for the same treatment. So, to save ourselves from obsessive Googling, we tapped dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, to give us the rundown on these incredibly common skin situations. Beware: bumps ahead.

Generally Dry Skin
"One of the most common [types of bumps] is caused by dry skin," Dr. Tanzi says. She describes them as teeny, tiny pocks that are typically accompanied by flakes. You know the way your elbows appear when they're dried out and raw? That's what these look like.

Tanzi advises treating the issue early, because it can lead to dermatitis, which is basically the worst skin rash you can imagine. First up, keep the temps in your shower tepid. "In the wintertime, people tend to make the water in their showers too hot, which dries out the skin," Dr. Tanzi explains. Then, always be sure to moisturize post-rinse. Still not clearing up? Dr. Tanzi suggests a 1% hydrocortisone cream.

Eczema
Eczema is very hard to self-diagnose, which is why Dr. Tanzi stresses the importance of visiting your derm if you suspect you have it. "It's red and scaly and itchy," she explains. "It looks like a rash, and is typically on a background of dry skin." That means that the skin around the bumps is also dry and scratchy. The best course of action for eczema is a prescription-strength steroid cream, which can be doled out only by your doc. So make sure to pop in before you try to self-treat this issue.

Psoriasis
Dr. Tanzi says that psoriasis is very easily mistaken for eczema, but that there's one very specific way to tell the difference. "While eczema is on a background of dry skin, the skin around psoriasis is mostly clear," she says. "It's still red and extremely scaly, but it usually doesn't itch." Psoriasis tends to be hereditary, and needs to be diagnosed by a professional. Prescription-grade medications are the best way to relieve it.

Chafing
That's right — the terrible rub can also cause unsightly red bumps. "You often see them on the thighs and in the armpits," Dr. Tanzi says. "It's just irritation." The key to avoiding chafing? Wear loose layers and keep the areas in question as dry as possible. "If the irritation is really bad, you can use a hydrocortisone cream on it," she says.

Keratosis Pilaris
This is a very common skin condition that is identified by little red bumps that form around inflamed hair follicles. (You can see examples here, but you might not want to click that link if you're slightly squeamish.) "It's difficult to treat," Dr. Tanzi says. "It's typically seen on the thighs and upper arms." She explains that the best course of action is to exfoliate with a lactic acid moisturizer, such as AmLactin, because physical exfoliants can just further the problem. "People tend to over-exfoliate to get [the skin] smooth, and it just makes it worse, because it stimulates more bumps," she explains.

Bacne
Sure, back acne might sound like a summer problem, but plenty of folks deal with it year-round. The cause in the fall? You sweat a lot more under layers — and the bacteria has nowhere to go. "People sleep with the heat on and wake up sweating, or will be walking around under lots of layers and start to sweat that way," Dr. Tanzi explains. She advises reaching for a body wash with salicylic acid, but warns against using it every day, which can dry out skin. (Go for every other day, to be safe.) "The best thing to do is just dress in thin layers, so you can peel things back as you get warm," she says.

Random skin bumps don't have to be something you suffer through all winter. With the knowledge of what they are and how to treat them, you can keep your skin smooth 365 days a year.
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