What Are Goosebumps on the Skin?

Goosebumps happen when the tiny hairs on your skin stand up and make the surface of your skin appear bumpy. They are an involuntary reaction that everyone experiences at some point in their life. Other common terms for them are goose pimples, goose skin, and goose flesh. Medically, goosebumps are known as piloerection, cutis anserina, and horripilation.

Unknown person gets goosebumps during a cold tropical rainstorm

GettyImages / helivideo

Goosebumps Symptoms

When your arrector pili muscles contract, the tiny hairs on your skin are pulled upright. The hair follicles swell and take on the appearance of little skin bumps—or goosebumps. 

They usually appear on the arms and legs, but can happen elsewhere on the body. It's just that the arms and legs typically have more hair, so the bumps are more noticeable.

Goosebumps Etymology

Where does the common name for goosebumps come from? Do geese have bumps on their skin? Yes, they do. Although geese are covered in feathers, underneath the soft down, the skin is rough and pimply. Goosebumps are so-called because they look a lot like the bumpy skin of a freshly plucked goose.

Causes

Why do goosebumps happen? Here are a few reasons. 

Cold

Goosebumps are a reaction to cold temperatures. By standing up on end, the hairs on the body try to offer up better insulation. However, modern humans no longer have enough hair on their bodies for this reaction to provide any actual insulation.

Oddly enough, though, you don’t need to be physically chilly for goosebumps to form. The mere thought of feeling cold can cause goosebumps.

Release of Adrenaline

Stressful or emotionally fraught situations can also cause goosebumps because the body releases adrenaline (epinephrine), a powerful stress hormone that also increases heart rate and raises blood pressure. Therefore, being scared or anxious can produce goosebumps on the skin.

If an experience is very pleasurable, it can also cause goosebumps. Listening to music, for instance, has been shown to produce goosebumps and involuntarily chills. 

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions, like keratosis pilaris (KP), may look a lot like goosebumps but aren’t. KP is a condition where the hair follicles clog up with dead skin cells and appear as tiny bumps along the skin’s surface that look like goosebumps. Other symptoms include redness, dryness, and itching. It’s a benign condition that poses no harm.

Goosebumps may also be a symptom of certain neurological disorders such as temporal lobe epilepsy.

Drugs

Some drugs, illicit and otherwise, may cause goosebumps. A case report from 2016 outlines a situation where two sisters developed goosebumps after taking milnacipran, a medication used to treat depression.

Goosebumps are also a sign of withdrawal from certain drugs, such as opioids, likely because withdrawal causes fever-like chills.

Part of Fight or Flight Response

Animals also experience goosebumps, Like in humans, they form in response to fight-or-flight situations. As the hair sticks up on end, it creates an illusion that makes animals appear larger to predators, scaring them off.

Treatment and Prevention

Goosebumps are a harmless reaction that everyone experiences. You don’t need to treat goosebumps, and there’s no way to stop getting them in the future. However, if you don’t like the sensation, you can do a few things to prevent it from occurring. 

Prevention

Depending on the situation, you can prevent goosebumps in these ways:

  • Stay warm: Wear warm clothing to prevent getting chills that may result in goose-pimpled skin.
  • Avoid stressful situations: Stress can elicit an involuntary response in the body that leads to goosebumps on the skin. Steer clear of things that stress you out or learn to better cope with unavoidable stressful events. 

Treatment

Treating goosebumps is not necessary, but if you get them and feel uncomfortable, here are a few things you can do to deal with them:

For a long-term solution, you can also get laser hair treatment to remove hair.

Word From Verywell

Goosebumps aren’t anything to worry about. Some people even enjoy the sensation. Everyone experiences goosebumps, and by knowing what they signal and how to deal with them, you will be able to take simple measures.

If you think the bumps on your skin may be a skin condition and not goosebumps, make an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist.

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Article Sources
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