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What Is Actinic Keratosis? Here’s What You Need to Know

Consider going to the dermatologist because you're worried about a strange growth on your arm. You exhale a sigh of relief when your doctor informs you that the spot is an actinic keratosis (AK), which means it isn't cancerous… for the time being. It could remain benign, but it could also progress to a potentially fatal form of skin cancer.

Millions of Americans have been affected by AK, but many of them may not be sure what it means and whether they should be concerned. To clear up the confusion, here's everything you need to know about this condition.

What Is Actinic Keratosis? 

Actinic keratosis is a skin disease that causes rough, scaly patches on the skin. Another name for AK is solar keratosis. AK is a type of pre-cancer, which means that if you don't treat the disease, it can turn into cancer. If left untreated, it can lead to a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. 

How Common Is Actinic Keratosis? 

Approximately 58 million Americans have one or more actinic keratoses. AK is the most common cause of skin cancer.

Who Can Get Actinic Keratosis? 

People who do not protect their skin from sun exposure are more likely to develop actinic keratosis. Your risk is also higher if you have: 

  • Blonde or red hair
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Light or white skin
  • History of repeated or severe sunburn 
  • Weakened immune system due to illness or cancer immunotherapy treatment 

What Is the Cause of Actinic Keratosis? 

The most common cause of actinic keratosis is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. UV rays come from the sun or indoor tanning equipment, such as tanning beds. UV rays can damage the outer layer of skin cells called keratinocytes.

What Are the Symptoms of Actinic Keratosis? 

Usually, the first signs of actinic keratosis are raised, raised bumps on the skin. They can vary in color but typically have yellow or brown skin on the top. These bumps could be gray, pink, red, and the same color as your skin. 

Symptoms may also include:

  • Bleeding, burning, stinging or itching, dry, scaly lips;
  • Protruding horn-like skin (like an animal's horn);
  • Discolored lips; and
  • Pain.

If actinic keratosis is treated promptly, you are less likely to get skin cancer. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should contact your healthcare provider right away.

How Is Actinic Keratosis Diagnosed? 

Your primary care provider, dermatologist (skincare provider), or other health care provider can usually diagnose active keratosis by examining your skin and using magnification. If your health care professional is unsure or the skin seems unusual, they may recommend a skin biopsy. This short, minimally invasive procedure examines your skin cells under a microscope for an accurate diagnosis. 

How Is Actinic Keratosis Treated? 

Actinic keratosis may go away on its own, but it may reappear with more sun exposure. Because it's difficult to predict which actinic keratoses may progress to skin cancer, they're routinely removed as a precaution.


If you have several actinic keratoses, your doctor may advise you to use a medicinal cream or gel such as SmartLotion to eliminate them. For a few weeks, these products may cause redness, scaling, or a burning feeling.

To remove actinic keratosis, your provider may use any of these surgical procedures: 

Cryotherapy (Freezing)

Liquid nitrogen can be used to eradicate actinic keratoses. Your doctor applies the chemical to the afflicted skin, resulting in blistering or peeling. As your skin heals, the injured cells slough off, revealing new skin. 

Cryotherapy is one of the most common treatment methods for actinic keratosis. It is a brief procedure that can be completed at your doctor's office. Blisters, scars, changes in skin texture, infection, and changes in skin color of the afflicted area are all possible side effects.

Scrapping (Curettage)

Your doctor will use a curette (a device) to scrape off damaged cells during this treatment. Scraping may be followed by electrosurgery, in which the doctor utilizes an electric current to cut and destroy the afflicted tissue with a pencil-shaped device. This operation necessitates the use of a local anesthetic. Infection, scarring, and changes in the skin color of the affected area are all possible side effects.

Laser Treatment

This method is becoming more popular for treating actinic keratosis. Your doctor will use ablative laser equipment to remove the patch, allowing new skin to grow in its place. Scarring and discoloration of the afflicted skin are possible side effects.

Photodynamic Treatment (PDT)

Your doctor may apply a light-sensitive chemical solution to the damaged skin before exposing it to a specific light that destroys actinic keratosis. During therapy, redness, swelling, and a burning feeling are possible side effects.

Can You Treat Parakeratosis at Home? 

If you have lots of scaly patches or hard-to-see keratosis pilaris (AK), your health care professional may prescribe home treatment. Usually, home treatment involves applying medicated creams like SmartLotion® to your skin, which not only helps to reduce but also prevents a variety of eczema and dermatitis. 

How Long Does It Take For Actinic Keratosis to Go Away? 

After the treatment ends, it can take up to three months for the AK spots to disappear, depending on the size and amount of actinic keratosis (AK). Once it is over, you'll need to visit your healthcare provider for a checkup once or twice a year. If you have a weak immune system that increases your risk of AK, you may need to see a dermatologist four to six times a year.

How Can You Avoid Actinic Keratosis?

  • Avoiding extended UV exposure is the most effective strategy to prevent actinic keratosis. Applying sunscreen every day, even in cloudy weather or throughout the winter, and reapplying frequently—at least every two hours—is one way to protect your skin. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 that blocks UVA and UVB rays.
  • Avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when UV light is at its peak.
  • Stay away from tanning salons, sunlamps, and tanning beds.
  • Wear sun-protective apparel, such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and caps.

What Is the Prognosis For Those Suffering From Actinic Keratosis?

The majority of actinic keratoses (AKs) resolve after treatment. Approximately 90% of patients with actinic keratosis do not develop skin cancer. However, the majority of squamous cell carcinoma diagnoses were once milder conditions like AK. If you suspect you have an AK, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Is Actinic Keratosis Reversible after Treatment?

If you do not protect yourself from further sun exposure, actinic keratosis may reappear in some circumstances. Limit your exposure to UV light both during and after treatment.

What's Next?

Actinic keratosis is a dangerous skin condition that necessitates rapid treatment. Most AKs resolve with surgical or topical therapy. You can reduce your chances of developing actinic keratosis by shielding your skin from the sun and ultraviolet rays.

If you suspect you have AK, consult your doctor regarding diagnosis and treatment. The sooner you seek treatment for actinic keratosis, the less likely skin cancer will develop.

Patients with multiple or widespread actinic keratoses are prescribed to use the best lotion for dry, itchy skin. These creams and gels are applied directly to affected areas of the skin by the doctor to cure visible and invisible lesions with minimum danger of scarring.

If topical therapy works for you, you can get the best lotion for dry skin at Harlan MD. Not only can it help prevent actinic keratosis from progressing to skin cancer, but it will also restore your skin to its natural beauty. Buy now!

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