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Actinic Keratosis Overview
An actinic keratosis (ak-TIN-ik ker-uh-TOE-sis) is a rough, scaly patch on your skin that develops from years of exposure to the sun. It’s most commonly found on your face, lips, ears, back of your hands, forearms, scalp or neck.
Also known as solar keratosis, an actinic keratosis enlarges slowly and usually causes no signs or symptoms other than a patch or small spot on your skin. These lesions take years to develop, usually first appearing in older adults.
A small percentage of actinic keratosis lesions can eventually become skin cancer. You can reduce your risk of actinic keratosis by minimizing your sun exposure and protecting your skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Actinic keratosis, also called solar keratosis, is a precancerous skin condition that develops in sun-exposed skin, especially on the face, hands, forearms, and the neck. It is seen most often in pale-skinned, fair-haired, light-eyed people, beginning at age 30 or 40 and becoming more common with age.
What are the Symptoms?
Actinic keratoses are small and noticeable red, brown, or skin-colored patches that don’t go away. They commonly occur on the head, neck, or hands but can be found on other areas of the body. Usually more than one is present. They may:
- Have a rough texture.
- Itch, burn, or sting.
- Range in size from 1 mm to 3 mm or larger (about the size of a small pea).
- Be numerous, with several patches close together.
- Be surrounded by red, irritated skin.
Actinic keratosis needs to be evaluated by a doctor, especially if the keratoses become painful, bleed, become open sores, become infected, or increase in size.
Actinic keratosis are found primarily on areas exposed to the sun, including your face, lips, ears, back of your hands, forearms, scalp and neck.
Causes of Actinic Keratosis
Chronic sun exposure is the cause of almost all actinic keratoses. Sun damage to the skin is cumulative, so even a brief period in the sun adds to the lifetime total. Cloudy days aren’t safe either, because 70-80 percent of solar ultraviolet (UV) rays can pass through clouds. These harmful rays can also bounce off sand, snow and other reflective surfaces, giving you extra exposure.
The ultraviolet radiation given off by the lamps in a tanning salon can be even more dangerous than the sun, so dermatologists warn against indoor tanning.
Occasionally, actinic keratoses may be caused by extensive exposure to X-rays or a number of industrial chemicals.
Risk Factor of Actinic Keratosis
Although anyone can develop actinic keratoses, you may be more likely to develop the condition if you:
- Are older than 40
- Live in a sunny climate
- Have a history of frequent or intense sun exposure or sunburn
- Have pale skin, red or blond hair, and blue or light-colored eyes
- Tend to freckle or burn when exposed to sunlight
- Have a personal history of an actinic keratosis or skin cancer
- Have a weak immune system as a result of chemotherapy, chronic leukemia, AIDS or organ transplant medications