Actinic Keratosis

These are common skin growths, and treatment for AKs is one of the most frequent reasons that patients seek out dermatologists. They are also known as “solar keratoses” due to being caused by years of sun exposure. Actinic keratoses are considered precancerous. If left untreated, they may evolve into squamous cell carcinoma.

Similar to skin cancer, actinic keratoses are formed when ultraviolet (UV) light damages skin cells. Damaged cells (caused by UV light) can cause the skin to become scaly and rough. If changes continue to take place, actinic keratoses can become skin cancer.

What do Actinic keratoses look like?

Most actinic keratoses (AKs) are dry, scaly and rough in texture, but they all do not appear the same. Some are the same color as the skin and can be easier felt than seen. These particular AKs often feel like sandpaper, can appear in groups and cover larger skin areas. Others show themselves as red bumps, red scaly patches or growths, or crusted growths varying from red to brown to yellowish black. Size can vary from the size of a pinhead to larger than a quarter. Sometimes, they grow rapidly upward and you will see a growth that resembles a horn (known as a cutaneous horn). They often form on men’s ears.

Actinic keratosis will often disappear for months and then reappear. This is why treatment is so important; left untreated, damaged cells can continue to multiply and grow, and skin cancer may develop.

Actinic keratosis tends to appear on skin that is exposed to the most sun, including: face, forehead and scalp (especially a bald scalp), neck and upper chest, back, ears, lower legs (especially in women), arms and hands.

Who gets actinic keratosis?
  • Fair-skinned people have a greater risk of forming AKs. Also, people with one or more of the following traits:
  • blonde/red hair color
  • blue/green/hazel eyes
  • skin that freckles or burns when in the sun
  • 40 years of age or older. However, people who have been exposed to a lot of sun are at risk for developing AKs prior to age 40. Using a tanning bed or tanning lamp increases the risk of AKs developing.

How do dermatologists treat actinic keratosis?

When treating actinic keratosis, dermatologists use one or several therapies, which include:
  • Cryosurgery
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Chemical peeling
  • Laser skin resurfacing
  • Curettage
  • Chemotherapy for the skin
  • Immunotherapy for the skin
  • NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) for the skin

You should always consult a board certified dermatologists to discuss which treatment option is right for you.

Schedule an appointment for your actinic keratosis today

Leaving actinic keratoses undiagnosed and untreated can be dangerous, as actinic keratoses can be a precursor to skin cancer. Use the buttons below to find a clinician or location near you that offers treatment for actinic keratosis.