First Time User? Sign Up Now
Home > Health Library > Actinic Keratosis
Actinic keratosis, also called solar keratosis, is a skin growth that develops in sun-exposed skin, especially on the face, hands, forearms, and the neck. It is seen most often in pale-skinned, fair-haired, light-eyed people, beginning at age 30 or 40 and becoming more common with age.
Actinic keratoses are small and noticeable red, brown, or skin-colored patches that don't go away. They commonly occur on the head, neck, or hands but can be found on other areas of the body. Usually more than one is present. They may:
Actinic keratosis needs to be evaluated by a doctor, especially if the keratoses become painful, bleed, become open sores, become infected, or increase in size.
Actinic keratosis is diagnosed through a skin examination. Your doctor may use a bright light or magnifying lens to look for growths, moles, or lesions. The scalp is examined by parting the hair. If there is a possibility of cancer, your doctor may take a sample of your skin and test (biopsy) it.
Your doctor may recommend one of these treatments:
Actinic keratosis may turn into skin cancer, but this isn't common. There is no way to find out whether actinic keratosis will progress to squamous cell carcinoma or how fast this might occur. Keratoses on the ear and lip are at the highest risk of developing into cancer because of the sensitivity of the ear and lip to sun exposure.
You can help prevent actinic keratosis by staying out of the sun and using sunscreen when you are in the sun. You should also examine your skin for the condition and other suspicious growths once a month, especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun.
To protect your skin:
Other Works Consulted
Duncan KO, et al. (2012). Epithelial precancerous lesions. In LA Goldman et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 8th ed., vol. 1, pp. 1261–1283. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Kose O, et al. (2008). Comparison of the efficacy and tolerability of 3% diclofenac sodium gel and 5% imiquimod cream in the treatment of actinic keratosis. Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 19(3): 159–163.
Current as of:
July 2, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineAmy McMichael MD - Dermatology
Current as of: July 2, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Amy McMichael MD - Dermatology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.