Actinic (Solar) Keratosis: What It Is, Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

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Actinic (Solar) Keratosis: What It Is, Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

Actinic keratosis, also known as solar keratosis, is a precancerous condition that affects the outer layer of the skin.

Actinic (Solar) Keratosis: What It Is, Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

Image Source: Dinodia

Our skin is constantly exposed to various environmental factors, including the harmful rays of the sun making it necessary to take proper care of this organ. Over time, continuous sun exposure can lead to the development of actinic keratosis, also known as solar keratosis. It is a scaly and rough patch that emerges on the skin due to prolonged sun exposure, posing a potential risk if not addressed promptly. The likelihood of these keratoses progressing into squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, ranges from approximately 5% to 10%.

What is Actinic Keratosis?

It is a common skin condition that is caused by damage to the skin from long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. It appears as rough, scaly patches on skin ranging in colour from pink to reddish-brown and is most often found on the face, ears, scalp, neck, and back of the hands. They are most common in people who have fair skin and who have spent a lot of time in the sun. While actinic keratosis itself is not cancerous, if left untreated, it can progress to squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.

Symptoms of Actinic Keratosis:

Actinic keratosis typically presents as elevated, coarse lumps on the skin, exhibiting various colours, often with a dominant brown or yellow scab. These lumps may display shades of grey, pink, or red, or blend harmoniously with the adjacent skin colour. Additional common signs and symptoms associated with actinic keratosis include:

  • Actinic keratosis manifests as rough, parched, or flaky patches on the skin, which can be tactilely compared to sandpaper

  • The affected skin may be pink, red, or brown in colour. In some cases, the patches may have a white or yellowish hue

  • Actinic keratosis can cause itching, burning, or a stinging sensation in the affected areas

  • Some individuals may experience tenderness or sensitivity in the patches, especially when exposed to sunlight or touched

  • Over time, actinic keratosis may develop small, rough bumps that can be felt on the skin's surface

  • Bleeding      

  • Dry, scaly lips 

  • Loss of colour in the lips

Causes and risk factors of Actinic Keratosis:

Actinic keratosis is primarily caused by extended exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted by the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds. Additionally, there are other factors that heighten the risk of developing actinic keratosis, including:

Fair skin: People with fair skin are more susceptible to actinic keratosis due to their reduced ability to produce melanin, which provides some natural protection against the sun's harmful rays.

Age: Actinic keratosis is more common in individuals over the age of 40, as cumulative sun exposure increases over time.

People living close to the equator: Living in regions with high levels of sunlight, closer to the equator, or at higher altitudes increases the risk of actinic keratosis.

Weakened immune system: Individuals with a weakened immune system, such as organ transplant recipients or those with certain medical conditions, are at a higher risk of developing actinic keratosis.

Previous skin damage: Prior sunburns or other forms of skin damage increase the likelihood of developing actinic keratosis.

Treatment options for Actinic Keratosis:

Early detection and treatment of actinic keratosis are crucial to prevent its progression into skin cancer. The appropriate treatment for actinic keratosis is determined by the number of affected areas and their characteristics. During a medical consultation, the doctor will recommend the removal of the affected skin patches. The following methods may be employed by the doctor to treat actinic keratosis:

Topical Medications: Prescription creams or gels containing ingredients such as fluorouracil, imiquimod, or diclofenac can be applied directly to the affected areas to destroy abnormal cells.

Chemical peels: These resemble medical-grade face masks, and are administered by the doctor during an appointment to address actinic keratosis. This treatment involves the application of chemicals that safely remove undesired patches from the surface layer of the skin. Following the procedure, the treated area may experience soreness and redness for a few days. As the skin undergoes the healing process, the patient will observe the emergence of a fresh and healthy layer of skin.

Cryotherapy: This procedure involves freezing the affected skin with liquid nitrogen, causing the abnormal cells to slough off and new, healthy skin to regenerate.

Curettage and electrodessication: This treatment involves scraping off the damaged skin and then using an electric current to destroy any remaining abnormal cells.

Photodynamic therapy: In this process a photosensitizing agent is applied to the skin, followed by exposure to a special light that activates the agent, destroying the abnormal cells.

Laser therapy: High-energy laser beams are used to precisely remove or destroy actinic keratosis lesions.


Actinic keratosis is a common skin condition caused by long-term sun exposure and primarily affects areas of the body exposed to sunlight. While it is a precancerous condition, if left untreated, it can progress to skin cancer. It is important to prioritise our skin health and take necessary precautions to ensure our overall wellness and reduce the risk of developing this potentially harmful condition. Remember, a little effort in protecting your skin today can go a long way in maintaining a healthier future.

Disclaimer: The above content is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for the advice of a qualified physician or doctor. The Company does not vouch for or endorse any of the above content, and disclaims any and all warranties, express or implied, relating to the same.