Filter Glossary

Actinic keratosis

  • Overview


    Actinic keratosis is a patch of rough, scaly skin that results from prolonged exposure to the sun. These patches typically appear on the face, lips, ears, forearms, scalp, neck, or back of the hands.

    Scaly spots or patches on the top layer of the skin are called actinic keratoses. These spots may become complicated with a wart-like surface over time. Actinic keratosis, also known as solar keratosis, typically develops slowly and is commonly found in people over 40. Minimising sun exposure and protecting your skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays is essential to reduce the risk of this skin condition. If left untreated, actinic keratoses may turn into squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, with a risk ranging from 5% to 10%.

  • Symptoms


    Actinic keratoses vary in appearance. Symptoms include:
    Rough, dry or scaly patch of skin, usually less than 1 inch (2.5 centimetres) in diameter.
    Flat to slightly raised patch or bump on the top layer of skin.
    In some cases, a complex, wartlike surface.
    Colour variations, including pink, red or brown.
    Itching, burning, bleeding or crusting.
    New patches or bumps on sun-exposed areas of the head, neck, hands and forearms.

  • When to see a doctor


    It can be challenging to differentiate between benign and malignant skin spots. Therefore, it is advisable to have any new changes in the skin checked by a healthcare professional, especially if a scaly spot or patch persists, grows, or bleeds.

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  • Causes


    Actinic keratosis is a skin condition that arises from repeated or prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays emitted by the sun or tanning beds.

  • Risk factors


    Anyone can develop actinic keratoses. But you’re at increased risk if you:
    Have red or blond hair and blue or light-coloured eyes.
    Have a history of a lot of sun exposure or sunburn.
    Tend to freckle or burn when exposed to sunlight.
    Be older than 40.
    Live in a sunny place.
    Work outdoors.
    Have a weakened immune system.

  • Prevention


    Protecting your skin from the sun can help prevent actinic keratoses. Follow these steps for sun safety:
    Limit your time in the sun. Avoid the sun from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to prevent sunburn or a tan.
    Use sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful sun rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even on cloudy days. Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, and remember to use lip balm with sunscreen on your lips. It’s best to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours, especially if you’re swimming or sweating. However, sunscreen is not recommended for babies under six months old. It’s better to keep them out of the sun or protect them with shade, hats, and clothing that cover their arms and legs.
    Cover up to protect yourself from the harmful effects of the sun. Opt for clothing made from tightly woven materials covering your arms and legs. Additionally, a broad-brimmed hat is recommended for optimal protection, as it shields your face and neck more than a baseball cap or golf visor would.
    Check your skin regularly and report changes to your healthcare provider. Use mirrors to check your face, neck, ears, and scalp, as well as the tops and undersides of your arms and hands. Look for new skin growths or alterations in moles, freckles, bumps, or birthmarks.

  • *Please note that the information provided in the article is for reference purposes only. It is essential to consult a doctor before applying any of the suggestions mentioned.

Content Details

Medical info from Mayo Clinic, for reference only. Visit Hoan My for better advice.

Last updated on: 07/08/2023