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Actinic Keratosis

Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.

What is Actinic Keratosis?

This is a condition that affects your skin when it has been exposed to the sun for a long period of time and is considered precancerous. It is also referred to by other names such as solar keratosis, pre-cancerous spots, and sun spots. Most of the cases of actinic keratosis happen in people who are light skinned. It can happen to people who have darker skin but that is rare. Having actinic keratosis is common and appears to increase as you age. You will find actinic keratosis on any part of your body that has been exposed to the sun like your neck, forearms, face, ears, and hands and lips. If actinic keratosis appears on your lips it is called actinic cheilitis and can be a very dangerous form of actinic keratosis because it can very easily become cancerous so make sure it is taken care of as soon as you notice it on your lips.

Actinic Keratosis Symptoms

  • When you first notice actinic keratosis it is a patch of rough skin that is small
  • As you age the skin will start to become scaly, reddened, and scabby
  • It can look like a small skin lesion or wart
  • They can vary in size from the size of a pencil up to the size of a quarter
  • It can be flat or raised
  • Can be itchy and fell prickly or tender

Most people will find actinic keratosis more by feeling them than by seeing them. The reason is that their change in color can be very subtle. Although it can turn into cancer if not treated it can take many years before this happen but very few of these turn into cancer.

Actinic Keratosis Causes

Actinic keratosis is caused by sun damaged but does not happen overnight or if you are exposed to the sun for short periods of time it happens after a long period of sun exposure, which could take a lifetime. It can also be caused by people who use tanning beds on a regular basis.

Actinic Keratosis Treatment

If you have not been diagnosed with actinic keratosis it is best that you start now to try and prevent yourself from being diagnosed with it. You can help prevent developing actinic keratosis by limiting your exposure to the sun or using tanning beds. If your physician or dermatologist has diagnosed you with actinic keratosis, there are a variety of methods that you can use that are very effective in treating this medical condition.


Using this treatment the dermatologist will apply liquid oxygen to it using either a spraying device or by hand using an applicator with a cotton tip. By doing this the lesions will slough off. Because there is no bleeding involved with this method of treatment you will not have to have any anesthesia. You will be awake during the procedure. For superficial actinic keratosis this is the treatment that most people opt to have. It is usually a non-scarring method of treatment. For people with darker complexions this may not be the best treatment as they could develop hypo-pigmentation areas and if this treatment method is used on their face their face could have white spots on it, especially if they have several lesions treated.

Surgical removal

If you have actinic keratosis with thick crusts they should be removed surgically. If the lesions are less than zero point five centimeters it is not necessary to biopsy them but if they are larger or from the vermillion border of your lips they should be examined to see if they are cancerous or noncancerous.


This is a tool that is used to scrape off the actinic keratosis. Because there will be some bleeding they will also use cauterization to help control it.


The creams that are used contain 5-fluorouracil which will directly attach the actinic keratosis. The drawback with this type of treatment is that the creams can cause your skin to become red and raw along with some discomfort from your skin breaking down. Despite this drawback it is an effective treatment. One of the creams that is used is Aldara, which is one of the newer medications stimulate your immune system. Another cream that is used is called Solaraze gel, which is a non-steroidal medication that is also very effective. For people with darker complexions this is the best alternative to cryotherapy.

Chemical peels

Using this treatment your dermatologist will apply acids to your skin, causing the top layers of your skin to peel off. Within seven days you will see the growth of new skin. Within a few days the redness and soreness associated with this treatment will disappear.

Photodynamic therapy

This is a comparatively new treatment that involves injecting a chemical into a blood vessel. This chemical will collect in your actinic keratosis and will make them sensitive to a special type of light.

To help prevent actinic keratosis from developing in the first place you should make sure that you are wearing the right type of sunscreen when you are going outside anytime, especially if you have light skin. If you are light skin you should also be careful about how much you are out in the sun even with the right type of sunscreen on. You also want to avoid tanning beds if at all possible. One thing to note is that the longer you wait to treat actinic keratosis the more dangerous they can become and the more likely they can turn into cancer.

Actinic Keratosis Pictures

Collection of Pictures of Actinic Keratosis…

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