Actinic Keratosis: Symptoms & Signs

Medically Reviewed on 7/20/2020

An actinic keratosis is a precancerous skin abnormality. Over time, an actinic keratosis has the potential to develop into a squamous cell carcinoma (a type of cancer) of the skin.

An actinic keratosis appears as a rough, dry, or scaly patch of skin that is usually less than 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) in diameter. They may be red, light or dark tan, white, pink, flesh-toned, or a mixture of colors. Other signs and symptoms can include

  • a raised bump on the skin that feels rough to the touch or
  • a raised bump on the skin that has a hard or wartlike surface.

Cause of actinic keratosis

Ultraviolet light exposure, either directly from UV rays from the sun or UV rays from tanning beds, causes an actinic keratosis.

Other actinic keratosis symptoms and signs

  • Bump May Be Red, Light or Dark Tan, White, Pink, Flesh-Tones or a Mixture of Colors
  • Raised Bump on the Skin That Feels Rough to the Touch
  • Raised Bump on the Skin That Has a Hard or Wartlike Surface
  • Rough, Dry, or Scaly Patch of Skin Usually Less Than 1 Inch in Diameter


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Jameson, J. Larry, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 20th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2018.