Actinic keratosis is one of the numerous side effects of exposing your skin to excessive sunlight over the years. These rough, scaly patches gradually appear as you age. Aside from causing discomfort, it tells you about the risk of cancer. There are several effective treatment methods for actinic keratosis, but before we dive deeper, 

What exactly is Actinic keratosis?

Actinic Keratosis Explained

Actinic keratosis, also called solar keratosis, is a skin disorder that develops as a rough, scaly patch on the skin. It is a common skin disorder due to years of overexposure to the sun and ultraviolet light (UV).

If it is not treated early, Actinic keratosis is a form of precancer that can develop into a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. This means if AK is found and treated early, they have zero chance of developing into total skin cancer.

Actinic keratosis can be found on the face, ears, scalp, lips, forearms, neck, or back of the hands.

Causes of Actinic Keratosis 

The common cause of Actinic Keratosis is overexposure to ultraviolet light that damages the skin cell. UV light comes from sources such as sunlight and indoor tanning equipment like tanning beds.

Symptoms of actinic keratosis

Actinic keratosis is a disorder that develops slowly and varies in appearance. The signs and symptoms go thus:

  • Ninay, rough, and scaly patch of skin, usually less than 1inch (2.5 centimetres) in diameter 
  • Raised skin bumps with a yellow or brown crust on the top layer
  • Variations in colours such as grey, pink, red, and sometimes the same colour as the skin
  • Itching, bleeding, burning, or stinging
  • Ninay and scaly lips
  • A hornlike skin growth that sticks out like an animal’s horn
  • Loss of lip colour 
  • Pain or tenderness

Who are at risk of actinic keratosis?

  • People with pale skin, red or blond hair 
  • People with dark skin shades have continuously exposed their skin to sunlight without protection.
  • Older people over 40
  • People with a compromised immune system.
  • People who are suffering from UV rays sensitivity ( xeroderma pigmentosum (XP or albinism). 

Treatment of Actinic keratosis

Sometimes an actinic keratosis can naturally disappear but can return due to sun exposure. It is usually medically advisable you remove actinic keratosis as it is hard to tell which will develop into skin cancer. According to research, failure to treat actinic keratosis effectively may have serious consequences. 

Treatment can be administered during an office visit by your healthcare provider or treated at home. We will examine both below:

Removing Actinic Keratosis by a Dermatologist 

Procedures/Methods for Removing Actinic Keratosis During an Office Visit by a Dermatologist 

Depending on the Actinic keratosis you have and how they look like, your healthcare provider or dermatologist might recommend you remove them during an office visit using the following methods:

  • Chemical Peel: This is a medical-grade face mask that destroys the unwanted patches in the top layer of your skin when applied. After the first few days of application, the treated skin will be red, sore, and swollen. As the skin heals, a new and healthy layer will appear. This chemical peel cannot be purchased at a salon or sold as a home kit.
  • Cryotherapy is one of the most typical treatments that doesn’t take much time. This session is not elaborate; it can be done at your dermatologist’s office. It involves freezing actinic keratoses cells with liquid nitrogen. This cold substance is applied to the affected area to allow the AK to blister and fall off after a few days. As your skin heals, the damaged cells slough off and allow new skin to appear.
  • Curettage: This method is sometimes called scraping and is used in cases with extremely thick AK. The curettage procedure involves the initial scrapping of the damaged cells from the skin. After this, your dermatologist may proceed with the electrosurgical – use of electric current to destroy the remaining AK cells. Local anaesthesia is often used during this procedure.
  • Laser resurfacing: This method is often used to treat actinic keratosis and actinic cheilitis (precancerous growth on the lip). Here, an ablative laser removes the patch on the skin’s surface area. You may notice sore and raw skin after the procedure. Other side effects include skin discolouration and a burning sensation in the affected area. The skin should heal and grow a new healthy layer within 1-2 weeks. 
  • Excision: During this procedure, the skin around the actinic keratosis becomes numb, and then the doctor scrapes away or cuts out the AKs and stitches the affected area back together. It takes two to three weeks maximum for the affected area to heal.
  • Photodynamic therapy: This method is recommended for patients with multiple AKs or AKs that return after treatment. This method is time-consuming as it involves two parts.

The first part is where a solution-like cream is applied to areas with AK to make your skin sensitive to light. You have to wait for 60 to 90 minutes patiently. The second part is where you will be treated with a special light (blue or red) that destroys the AK.

As the affected area heals, new and healthier skin begins to appear. You will need to avoid sun or UV light exposure until your skin heals completely to prevent severe skin reactions.

Home Remedies for Actinic keratosis 

Your dermatologist might recommend a stay-at-home treatment if you have many AKs or AKs that you feel but do not see. Home Treatment involves applying medications, usually in the form of cream or ointments, to your skin with directions. Sometimes, drugs can be used for months if you follow the treatment plan correctly.

As your dermatologist recommended, you must keep applying the medication even with skin reactions. Some prescribed medicines that can be used at home include the following:

  • 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) cream: This cream is often prescribed for AK and sometimes other related conditions like psoriasis. It reduces the risks of the development of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) in the affected area. This cream can be applied to the affected area once or twice daily within 2 to 4 weeks. Do not use 5-FU if you are pregnant because it can affect the baby. 
  •  Diclofenac sodium gel: This sodium gel belongs nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) class of medication. This medication tends to cause less skin reaction than 5-FU, but it is still very effective. It can be applied twice daily for 2 to 3 months( as your doctor may prescribe). 

With this medication, you must protect your treated skin by avoiding the sun. Do not apply diclofenac sodium gel to open wounds or peeling skin.

  • Imiquimod cream is a medication that works for AK and basal cell skin cancer. This cream releases chemicals called cytokines in the skin. Consequently, the body’s natural defence is strengthened to kill skin cancer cells. It can be applied once a day for five weeks( as prescribed by your doctor). The cream should remain on your skin for less than 8 hours before you wash it off or shower. 
  • Tirbanibulin ointment: This medication is a good option for treating AKs on your face and scalp. All you need to do is apply this medication for five days. The treatment ends after five days.

Carefully apply this ointment by spreading it evenly over the affected area. Avoid using this ointment in other areas, such as the eyes or lips.

How to prevent Actinic Keratosis 

Prevention, they say, is better than cure. There are preventive measures you can put in place to reduce the risk of Actinic keratosis through lifestyle changes. Whenever you’re outside, take these proper measures:

  • Wear sunscreen daily: Use sunscreen on exposed skin and apply it for at least 15 minutes before going out.
  • Avoid prolonged sun exposure: Avoid staying in the sun between 10 a.m and 2 p.m; to avoid sunburn.
  • Cover up your skin when you come in contact with direct sunlight: Wear tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs for extra protection from the sun.
  • Avoid tanning beds: Totally avoid UV exposure from a tanning bed.
  • Examine your skin regularly and report any changes to your doctor: With the help of a mirror, look out for new development of new skin growths and carefully check every part of your body.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is actinic keratosis cancer?

No, it is not. Actinic keratosis is a precancer that can become a potentially life-threatening skin cancer if not treated and attended to early.

How severe is actinic keratosis?

Actinic keratoses are not extremely serious if found and treated early.

How long does it take actinic keratosis to turn into cancer?

About 5%-10% of AKs will develop into SCC (squamous cell carcinoma) with a progression of approximately 2years.

What causes actinic keratosis to flare up?

Overexposure to the sun or Ultraviolet lights can make Actinic keratosis flare up and damage the skin cells.

Does Vaseline help actinic keratosis?

Yes, Vaseline or Petroleum jelly can care for the wound yourself at home without a doctor’s instruction. Wash the affected area with clean water twice a day, and cover the affected area with Vaseline and a non-stick bandage.

Can you scratch off actinic keratosis?

It is not ideal you scratch off actinic keratosis as you can be vulnerable to further damage. However, if you scratch it off, it will likely reoccur or grow back unless treated medically.

How do you know if actinic keratosis has turned into cancer?

There’s no way to tell if actinic keratosis has turned into cancer but monitoring closely and treating them is the only way to be sure. Only 10% of actinic keratoses will eventually become cancerous, but most SCCs begin as AKs.

Can actinic keratosis spread?

Yes, actinic keratosis can spread to other exposed areas. If you find AK somewhere and you do not protect yourself from the sun, there’s a high chance you develop more actinic keratosis on other exposed areas.

Skincare Steps for Glowing Skin


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