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Actinic Keratosis

What Is Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic Keratosis is a precancerous, non-melanoma skin growth that is caused by long-term exposure to UV rays from direct sunlight, tanning beds, or sunlamps. This direct exposure to UV radiation over time damages your keratinocytes (cells that make up the skin), and that damage can put the cells into a precancerous state. 

Actinic Keratosis is a common skin condition seen in more than 58 million Americans each year, and it affects areas of the skin that are often left unprotected from the sun, such as the lips, ears, scalp, neck, forearms, or hands.


Actinic Keratosis Symptoms

Individuals with Actinic Keratosis rarely feel ill; rather, this skin disease is typically identified by its appearance on the skin. Early stage Actinic Keratosis manifests as a small, red or brown spot that can resemble a pimple or a patch of dry or irritated skin but does not go away. Because it can look like other harmless skin conditions, it’s important to pay attention to changes on your skin, especially in the areas Actinic Keratosis tends to affect most. 

When Actinic Keratosis forms on the lips, it is called Actinic Cheilitis, and it often resembles a badly chapped lip. Actinic Cheilitis most often forms on the lower lip, which is more susceptible to UV radiation because it has thinner skin and less pigmentation. 

If you notice a change to your skin that resembles Actinic Keratosis, it is important to seek treatment from your dermatologist right away as this precancerous skin growth can develop into Squamous Cell Carcinoma if left untreated. 

Actinic Keratosis Treatment

At Optima Dermatology, we will work with you to develop a treatment plan for your Actinic Keratosis. Our expert staff apply the latest dermatological solutions to ensure your treatment is as effective as possible. Treatment options for Actinic Keratosis can include:

  • Curettage and Electrodessication (Electrotherapy): A combination of scraping or shaving the affected layers of skin, and using heat or a chemical agent to destroy the precancerous cells and prevent the return of Actinic Keratosis in that area. 
  • Laser Surgery: Using intense heat or light to destroy the precancerous cells, typically without injuring the surface of the skin.
  • Photodynamic Therapy (PDT): The application of a topical agent that makes the affected area sensitive to light, and then using a blue light or laser to destroy the precancerous cells.
  • Cryosurgery: The application of liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy the precancerous cells. 

Topical Treatments: The application of creams or gels onto the affected area can destroy the precancerous cells over time.

Actinic Keratosis Prevention

You can take steps to prevent Actinic Keratosis by applying a 30+ SPF sunscreen thoroughly, especially on your ears, neck, forearms, and hands. An SPF lip moisturizer or chapstick is also recommended for periods of sun exposure – and don’t forget about the top of your head! If you can’t apply sunscreen directly to your scalp, wear a hat, especially one with SPF protection. 

Having regular skin checks and being aware of changes to your skin are also great defenses against skin cancers like Actinic Keratosis.