Actinic keratoses are small scaly plaques of thickened skin that usually develop after the age of 40, in response to years of sun exposure. Actinic keratoses are usually harmless but can be itchy and feel rough to the touch. Some people also find their appearance unsightly, particularly when they are on the face.
Alternative names: solar keratosis, sunspots, sun damage.
What causes Actinic Keratosis?
Found predominantly on skin sites that experience the most sun exposure such as faces, ears, hands and lower legs. They are quite common in the UK, with 20% of people having them. People with fair skin who burn easily in the sun are most likely to be affected. Actinic keratoses can transform into a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, however this is quite rare.
What are the symptoms/types of Actinic Keratoses?
Actinic keratoses are ill-defined rough patches, ranging in colour from pink to brown and measuring from 5mm to 30mm in width. Some can resemble crusty outgrowths when they are particularly thick and raised. If an actinic keratosis or sun spot starts to bleed or rapidly change in appearance or size this may indicate that it is progressing toward squamous cell carcinoma and medical advice must be sought immediately.
How can it be prevented?
Key to prevention is avoiding the sun when its rays are most intense around the middle of the day. Before going outdoors, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen that provides protection from both UVA and UVB light, giving it sufficient time to be absorbed, following the manufacturer’s guidelines. Use a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF). Consider wearing clothing designed to provide sun protection.
What Actinic Keratosis treatments are available?
Actinic keratoses are usually little cause for concern. Small patches may disappear by themselves. However, it is important to adopt good sun-protection habits such as using sunscreens and wearing protective clothing on hot days, in order to prevent further skin damage.
Due to the risk of progression to skin cancer it is generally advisable to treat actinic keratoses. They can also be removed to improve the cosmetic appearance of the skin as a matter of personal choice. We recommend an annual skin cancer screening and mole check to monitor activity of any sun damage.
Actinic Keratosis treatments we offer include:
Please click on each treatment to find out more
- Photodynamic therapy: employs the use of a special cream, which is applied to affected areas and is activated by light of a specific wavelength.
- Cryotherapy: involves freezing an affected site with liquid nitrogen.
- Curettage or excision: this is performed under local anaesthetic and normally reserved for thicker patches and suspected skin cancers.
We can also treat actinic keratosis with:
- Creams and ointments (5-fluorouracil, imiquimod or diclofenac sodium): these can be used when there are a large number of actinic keratoses, for example on the scalp.
Though these options are highly effective, due to prior sun-damage it is likely that more actinic keratoses will develop in the surrounding skin, requiring future treatment.