Charleston Dermatology Blog

What Are Actinic Keratoses?

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Statistics suggest that over 40 million Americans develop actinic keratoses (AKs) every year. This skin condition is one that we treat often. Yet, actinic keratosis (AK) is not a familiar term. This raises a question. So, what are actinic keratoses?

About Actinic Keratoses

Actinic keratoses are precancerous growths on the skin. They are caused by sun exposure, which is why the condition is also known as solar keratoses. 

AK can happen to anyone. Even those who are healthy otherwise can develop it from prolonged, excessive sun exposure. The same goes for those who regularly use tanning beds and sun lamps. But that’s no surprise. In some cases, these emit more harmful ultraviolet radiation than the sun itself!

True, the body can repair some damage from these harsh rays. Yet, it’s up to you to lessen damage with protective measures such as sunscreen and visors. Repeated exposure without such protections can lead to precancerous changes in your skin. 

Over time, AKs can then turn into a form of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma. If not treated promptly, such cancerous tumors can damage nerves, blood vessels and other structures. 


It is important to protect your skin from excessive sun exposure. If you have had excessive sun exposure consult your dermatologist. They will be able to identify and address potential or existing issues.  

Signs and Symptoms of Actinic Keratoses

Actinic keratoses tend to grow on the areas of skin that receive the most sun and ultraviolet radiation exposure. AKs are often seen on the face, ears, hands, neck or balding scalp so you’ll want to pay special attention to those areas. And, if you notice any of the following, you’ll want to visit a dermatologist right away:

  • A rough patch of skin (you may notice a sandpaper-like texture before the skin changes visibly).
  • Patches of irritated skin with rough, scaly bumps. 
  • Scaly, raised spots on the skin that look like a rash.
  • A raised, rough-feeling patch, which may be red, pink, skin-colored, or gray.
  • Flat, scaly areas of skin that look like age spots (this is especially common in people with skin of color).
  • Dry, scaly lips that never heal or that heal and return.
  • Dry, white patches on the lips.
  • Loss of color on the lips.

People with a high risk for skin cancer may even develop growths on the skin that resemble animal horns. 

While most with AKs only notice these changes to the skin, some experience burning sensations, itching, tenderness, and bleeding. Have you noticed any of these changes in your skin? If so, don’t wait to get checked out! Give us a call at (843) 872-3015 to make an appointment or learn more at charlestondermatology.com.

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