About Actinic Keratosis

What are actinic keratoses?

Actinic keratoses (AKs) are rough-textured, dry, scaly patches on the skin that are caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet light (UV), such as sunlight. Up to 58 million Americans have AKs.

  • AKs are often called "sun spots"
  • There may be a single AK or multiple AKs
  • They can be as small as a pinhead or larger than a quarter
  • They can range in color from skin toned to reddish brown

Photographs supplied courtesy of The Skin Cancer Foundation

What are some risk factors?

  • A history of cumulative sun exposure
  • Fair Skin
  • Blonde or red hair, in particular if combined with blue, hazel, or green eyes
  • A tendency to freckle or burn after sun exposure
  • A weakened immune system

Who gets AK's?

AKs develop as the result of years of sun exposure. Because the effect of sun exposure is cumulative, it is your lifetime exposure that increases your risk. Even if you didn't suntan much, years of just doing simple tasks outside can add up to a significant amount of sun exposure. For example:

  • Playing an outdoor sport
  • Walking the dog
  • Driving your vehicle

Because AKs take a long time to develop, they generally appear after the age of 40. Your risk of developing AKs increases if you have one or more of the risk factors.

WHERE DO AKs occur?

AKs may be found anywhere on the body that has been exposed to UV radiation, most commonly found on the face, scalp, and ears.

Localized Area

Few AKs(Left side)  and Multiple AKs(Right Side)

Large Areas

Few AKs(Left side)  and Multiple AKs(Right Side)

Sensitive Areas

Few AKs(Left side)  and Multiple AKs(Right Side)


Why Treat AKs?

Actinic keratoses are the most common precancer

AKs are considered to be the first step in the development of skin cancer. They have the potential to progress to squamous cell carcinoma (See). While most AKs remain benign, a study has shown that approximately 10 percent develop into see within an average of 2 years.l Since there is no way to know ahead of time which AKs will develop into see, it is very important for individuals with AKs to be under a dermatologist's care.

Frequent skin examinations are the key to early detection and prevention.