Actinic Keratosis

What is Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic KeratosisĀ is a precancerous lesion of the outer layer of skin. It is also known as solar keratosis.

What causes Actinic Keratosis?

Long term exposure to sunlight causes Actinic Keratosis. Chronic sunlight exposure alters the keratinocytes (cells in the outer layer of skin), causing the skin to become scaly, rough, discolored and sometimes tender to touch.

Where do Actinic Keratosis leasions appear?

The lesions most commonly appear on skin areas most exposed to sunlight, such as the face, lips, ears, neck, scalp, forearms and back of the hands.

Who is most likely to develop Actinic Keratosis?

People who have fair skin and light-colored hair and eyes are at greatest risk of developing Actinic Keratosis. Others who are at higher risk include individuals who are immunosuppressed and who have an immunodeficiency disorder.

How dangerous is Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic Keratosis is not life threatening if diagnosed and treated in the early stages. If left untreated, Actinic Keratosis have the potential to progress into squamous cell carcinoma, a serious form of skin cancer. So, it’s very important to report any suspicious skin lesions to your doctor.

How can I protect myself from Actinic Keratosis?

  • Avoid sun exposure during the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Wear broad-brimmed hats and tightly woven clothing.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 15 or higher on exposed skin, including lips…even on cloudy days! Reapply frequently.
  • Avoid tanning salons and artificial tanning devices.
  • Regularly inspect your entire body for any skin changes.
  • Routinely visit your doctor for a skin examination.

If I’m diagnosed with Actinic Keratosis, what are my treatment options?

Many times Actinic Keratosis is diagnosed by clinical appearance. However, sometimes your doctor performs a skin biopsy. Your treatment will vary based on the location, size and amount of lesions. Your doctor will also consider your age and overall health condition.

Common treatment options include:
– freezing the lesions with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery)
– topical chemotherapy cream
– photodynamic therapy
– chemical peel
– laser resurfacing


  • One in six people develop Actinic Keratosis in their lifetime.
  • Older people are more likely to develop Actinic Keratosis since cumulative sun exposure increases with age.
  • Patients with Actinic Keratosis have a lifetime risk of 5-9% of progression to squamous cell carcinoma.