What is an Actinic Keratosis?

An actinic keratosis (AK) is a rough, persistent, scaly spot or patch that occurs on chronically sun-exposed skin. It can be red/pink or brown (pigmented AK). It is most commonly found on your face, lips (usually lower lips), rims of your ears, back of your hands, forearms, scalp (in bald men more commonly) or neck. These slow growing spots usually present after the age of 40 (unless you have used tanning salons or had excessive sun exposure/burns).

How do I know I have one? Do they cause any symptoms?

They feel like rough patches of skin, especially in sun-exposed areas. AKs are more common in patients with fairer skin types (blond or red hair with blue/light eyes), patients aged 40+ with longstanding history of sun exposure or younger patients with tanning bed use/significant UV exposure, personal or family history of AK/skin cancer, patients on certain photosensitizing medications, or patients with weakened immune systems.

Usually they are asymptomatic, but they can be tender to the touch or itchy.

Do I have to treat them?

Yes, your board-certified dermatologist at Aura Dermatology will treat them, as a percentage (0.025-16%, average 8%) of AKs can eventually transform into skin cancer (most commonly squamous cell carcinoma, but also basal cell carcinoma).

It is much easier to treat at this stage BEFORE it turns into a skin cancer that needs more invasive or surgical treatment.

If an existing spot changes in size, shape, color, or other characteristics (bleeding, grows in size, starts to hurt), please see your board-certified dermatologist for an evaluation!

How can I prevent them?

Sun protection/avoidance measures are they key! It’s never too late to start! Use a broad- spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+ daily and reapply every 1.5-2 hours if outdoors for prolonged periods of time. Avoid mid-day sun exposure (10am-2pm). Wear sun protective clothing!

How are actinic keratoses treated?

The most common way to treat AKs is with cryosurgery (liquid nitrogen) to spot treat individual lesions.

Field therapy (treating an entire area such as the face/scalp for example) is a modality that addresses not only the visible AKs, but also microscopic early AKs before they show up. This generally gives better clearance rates, but can be practically challenging for some patients.

  • This can be done with the use of various topical creams or a light device, such as BLU-U. Ask your board-certified dermatologist if BLU-U is right for you!
  • These field treatments can make you very sensitive to the sun, and thus are often performed in the fall/winter months!

And that’s why Tis’ the Season to get your AKs treated! Come in for your skin evaluation at Aura Dermatology today and start living life in your best skin, skin-cancer free!

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