An actinic keratosis is a precancerous skin growth that can sometimes develop into a squamous cell carcinoma (a kind of skin cancer). It is caused by overexposure to the sun and therefore will be found most commonly on sun-exposed areas such as the top of the head, ears, face, torso, arms and hands. AK’s typically appear as rough, scaly bumps or patches that can sometimes be asymptomatic and other times feel itchy or tender.



An actinic keratosis will appear on a sun-exposed surface as a rough, scaly patch.  They can appear pink, white, gray or brown and will feel a little like sand paper to the touch. Sometimes they are almost flat but they can also be very thick and scaly or even have a horn-like structure growing on their surface.  Occasionally, patients will note that their AK is tender or sensitive to the touch.



To treat an AK, your dermatologist will take into consideration several factors including how many AK’s you have, where they are on your body, their size and your medical history. Treatment options include cryotherapy (liquid nitrogen), chemical peels, photodynamic therapy, laser resurfacing, as well as topical medications such as imiquimod (Aldara/Zyclara) and 5-fluorouracil (5FU/Efudex).


ACTINIC KERATOSES Questions and Answers

Limiting your exposure to the sun can reduce your chances of developing actinic keratosis. Wearing sunscreen daily can also reduce your chances of developing actinic keratosis.

Yes. If left untreated, it is possible for a squamous cell carcinoma to develop. Treatment is recommended as soon as possible to avoid this possibility.

Actinic keratosis can take years to develop.

Treatment costs vary by patient. Contact your dermatologist to figure out a treatment that is best for you.

*This webpage is for informational purposes and is not intended to be, and should not be relied upon as, medical advice. Any medical concerns should be addressed with a physician.