Actinic keratosis (AK) is skin damage caused by excessive exposure to sun over a period of years. The condition causes skin to become rough, dry and scaly.
About Actinic Keratosis
Actinic keratosis is one of the most common skin conditions that lead patients to see their dermatologist.
Once a patch of actinic keratosis develops, it is common for multiple patches of actinic keratosis to continue to form. Left untreated, these slow growing patches can eventually turn into squamous cell carcinoma – skin cancer.
Symptoms of Actinic Keratosis
Actinic keratosis, also called solar keratosis, typically develops on areas of the skin that receive the most sun exposure, including: the face, lips, top of the ear, scalp, hands, arms and back of the neck.
Changes in the texture of the skin are often the only sign of actinic keratosis. Patches of dry, rough skin or red, raised bumps characterize the condition.
Actinic keratosis can also appear as thick brown patches, pointy horn-type growths, or white scaly patches on the lips. Some individuals experience a burning or itching sensation in the affected area, while others have no symptoms other than the skin changes.
The rough skin sometimes flakes off and becoming smooth, only to reappear later. Sun exposure will hasten the return of AK.
Causes of Actinic Keratosis
Damage from the UV rays of the sun is the cause of actinic keratosis.
Without proper sun protection, skin that is exposed to the sun becomes injured over the years. This damage continues to build until AK develops.
Actinic keratosis is most common in patients who:
- Are over 40 years of age
- Have a fair complexion
- Freckle easily
- Have light colored eyes
- Have a weakened immune system
- Work outdoors with coal or tar
- Have certain medical conditions that place them at higher risk for UV skin damage
Diagnosis & Treatment of Actinic Keratosis
Suspicious areas may be biopsied in the dermatology clinic to rule out skin cancer, and areas of actinic keratosis are treated by:
- Cryotherapy – a freezing process that causes damaged skin to blister and peel
- Chemical peel – Prescription strength medication is applied to the skin patches by your dermatologist. The solution destroys the top layers of skin and allows new skin to form and grow
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT) – A photosensitizing agent is applied to the damaged skin, followed by application of a special light that destroys the precancerous skin.
- Laser resurfacing – Using a laser, the surface of the damaged skin is removed. New skin develops up to two weeks later.
- Prescription Medications – Your dermatologist may prescribe a cream or gel to be applied at home. A treatment time of several weeks may be needed.