Actinic Keratosis (Solar Keratosis)

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What are symptoms and signs of an actinic keratosis?

Actinic keratoses generally range in size between 2-6 mm in diameter (between the size of a pencil point and that of an eraser). They are usually reddish in color, with a rough texture and often have a white or yellowish scale on top. There is often a prickling pain felt when it is touched.

Who is at risk for actinic keratoses?

Those who develop actinic keratoses tend to be fair-skinned people who have spent years outdoors at work or at play or who have exposed their skin to indoor tanning radiation. Their skin often becomes wrinkled, mottled, and thinned from sun exposure. Others at risk for developing actinic keratoses include those who have their immune systems suppressed, such as organ-transplant patients, as well as patients with psoriasis treated with PUVA therapy (long-wave ultraviolet light plus an oral drug called psoralen).

Where on the body do actinic keratoses typically occur?

Common locations for actinic keratoses are the cheeks, bridge of the nose, rim of the ears, scalp, back of the neck, upper chest, and the tops of the hands and forearms. Men are more likely to develop AKs on top of the ears, whereas women's hairstyles often protect this area.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/2/2016

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