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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. They often affect areas of the skin that are unprotected from the sun, such as the lips, ears, scalp, neck, forearms, or hands.

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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 are often difficult to see, but have a characteristic “gritty” texture that does not heal. 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 an Actinic Keratosis forms on the lips, it is called Actinic Cheilitis, and it often resembles a badly chapped lip. Although it can occur anywhere on the lips, actinic cheilitis most often forms on the lower lip.

Actinic Keratoses are highly treatable and slow growing. If you notice a change to your skin that resembles an Actinic Keratosis, it is important to seek treatment from your dermatologist 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. Some treatment options for Actinic Keratosis can include:

  • Cryosurgery: The application of liquid nitrogen directly to the precancerous cells to destroy them.
  • Topical Treatments: Topical creams when applied for several weeks are highly effective at treating precancerous cells.
  • Photodynamic Therapy (PDT): A topical medication is applied to the affected areas and activated by a particular wavelength of light that destroys precancerous cells.
  • Electrodessication and Curettage: A combination of scraping the lesion immediately followed by heat to destroy the precancerous cells . This technique is often reserved for larger precancerous lesions.
  • Laser Surgery: Using intense energy in the form of light to destroy the precancerous cells.

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.