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Everything You Need To Know About Actinic Keratosis

Jul 8, 2022

You may be wondering what Actinic Keratosis is- and you would not be alone in wondering that.  In this blog, you will learn about actinic keratosis and also its causes, how to prevent, diagnose, and treat it.

Actinic Keratosis Defined

Actinic Keratosis (AK’s) are common skin lesions caused by years of sun exposure and are considered the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer. AK’s are also called “solar keratosis” or “sun spots.”


Fair-skinned individuals are more susceptible, and AK’s tend to appear on skin that receives the most sun: the forehead, ears, neck, arms, hands, lower lip, bald scalp, and lower legs of women.  People with the following characteristics are more likely to develop Actinic Keratosis:

  • are over age 60
  • have light-colored skin and blue eyes
  • have a tendency to sunburn easily
  • have a history of sunburns earlier in life
  • have been frequently exposed to the sun over your lifetime
  • have human papillomavirus (HPV)


As with other sun related skin protection, covering and reducing exposure is key. If you must be outside, follow these guidelines as closely as possible:

  • avoid exposure midday
  • avoid tanning beds
  • always use sunscreen when outside that has an SPF of 30 or more and blocks both UVA and UVB light.
  • wear hats and shirts with sleeves when you must be outside.


You are the first person in line of defense for your skin.  Your defense starts with prevention and protection.  Next, you should examine your skin routinely so that you are aware of any changes in moles, birthmarks, freckles, or bumps.  These will be specifically noticeable on your face, ears, tops and undersides of arms and hands, neck.  If you do notice changes, you should call your dermatologist right away.  If you are searching for a trustworthy dermatologist,  the friendly staff at Arlington Dermatology are here to serve!  Most often a dermatologist can diagnose Actinic Keratosis by looking, but occasionally a biopsy may be required.


Common treatments include cryosurgery, topical chemotherapy, topical immunotherapy, topical NSAID, and photodynamic.

Cyrosurgery: a treatment method where the lesion is sprayed with a solution, liquid nitrogen, in order to freeze the cells and kill them.  The lesion will scab over and fall off on its own in the following few days.

Topical Chemotherapy: fluorouracil, a chemotherapy drug, works by disrupting DNA synthesis in and thereby destroying actinic keratosis cells.

Topical Immunotherapy: imiquimod cream stimulates a local immune response in the skin, leading to destruction of the actinic keratosis cells.

Topical NSAID: a “nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug,” NSAID, may be applied in liquid or gel form in order to decrease symptoms of actinic keratosis.

Photodynamic: a solution, such as aminolevulinic acid or methyl aminolevulinate cream, is applied to the affected area of skin.  The area is then exposed to a laser light that targets and, then, kills the cells.

The friendly staff at Arlington Dermatology are eager to help you with your specific needs.  Please take the time to visit our website at or call our friendly staff at 847-725-0824 for assistance today.