What is Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic keratosis is a rough, scaly area on your skin that develops from years of exposure to the sun. It most commonly occurs on sun-exposed areas of the face, ears, lips, backs of the hands, forearms, neck, and scalp. These patches grow slowly and usually cause no signs or symptoms other than a small spot on your skin. Left untreated, there is a small percentage of actinic keratoses can grow to become squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.

Signs and symptoms of actinic keratosis include:

  • Dry, scaly patches of skin, commonly less than 1 inch in diameter.
  • Flat or slightly raised areas or bumps on the top layer of skin.
  • Pink, red, or brown areas of skin.
  • In some cases, a hard, wartlike surface.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or have an area of skin that changes in colour or size, or begins to itch or bleed, inquire at DermAtelier on Avenue how to arrange a skin exam and assessment.

Actinic Keratosis Treatment Options


There is a selection of prescription products that can be applied to the skin to treat several actinic keratoses. These include Fluorouracil cream, Fluoruracil-Salicylic acid combination cream, and Imiquimod cream.  These are administered at-home under the guidance of Dr. Beach

Surgical/Other Procedures

Cryotherapy: Actinic keratoses can be removed by freezing them off with liquid nitrogen. Dr. Beach will apply this substance to the affected area of skin, which causes redness, swelling, scabbing, peeling, and sometimes blistering. The skin will then heal over time, and the lesion will fall off, allowing new skin to surface. 

Curettage: During this procedure, local anesthetic is administered, and Dr. Beach will use a special device called a curette to scrape off the damaged cells of the actinic keratosis. 

Who is a Good Candidate for Actinic Keratosis Treatment?

Individuals who are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms mentioned above or those who have been diagnosed with actinic keratosis can benefit from actinic keratosis treatment. The best way to determine if you are a good candidate is to schedule a consultation appointment with Dr. Beach. 

What to Expect After Actinic Keratosis Treatment?

Required downtime following your actinic keratosis treatment will depend on the form of treatment that was performed. However, most patients require little to no downtime. Be sure to follow Dr. Beach’s specific recovery instructions for the best possible outcomes.

It is also important that you take the proper steps to keep your skin healthy and protected from the sun. Be sure to limit your time in the sun during peak hours (10 a.m- 4 p.m), use sunscreen during all months, avoid tanning beds, and cover up with sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat when spending time out in the sun.

Contact Us Today

If you would like to learn more about actinic keratosis treatment options, contact DermAtelier on Avenue today. We will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can actinic keratosis turn into basal cell carcinoma?

No. It is a form of sun damage that can rarely develop into squamous cell cancer.

Does actinic keratosis need to be removed?

They can be treated with a variety of methods but do not require surgical removal

Does Retin A help actinic keratosis?

Retinoid can be used to help increase skin cell turnover and smoothen rough sites like actinic keratoses

Should actinic keratosis be biopsied?

Actinic keratosis is generally a clinical diagnosis and does not regularly require a biopsy.

Do chemical peels help actinic keratosis?

They can help smoothen the skin and the complexion, but there are other targeted treatments for actinic keratoses

What does actinic keratosis look like?

It can be rough or scaly and be seen on sun-exposed sites of the face or neck or hands, such as the forehead, temples, bridge of nose.

Why does actinic keratosis itch?

Sometimes if it is inflamed, it may feel itchy.

What is the primary cause of actinic keratosis?

Sun exposure that damaged the skin years ago.

What is the best treatment for actinic keratosis?

Your dermatologist will assess you for the best, most suitable treatment for the actinic keratoses - it can be topical rx or procedural therapy.

Is actinic keratosis dangerous?

Generally, no. They can be treated as they come up and do not require urgent n or surgical intervention.

How is actinic keratosis prevented?

Avoid sun exposure and protect yourself when outdoors in the sun - wear a hat with a 5cm brim, wear UPF 50+ clothing, avoid peak hours of sun exposure, wear Sunscreen with SPF 30 + to exposed skin

How do you treat actinic keratosis on face?

There are a variety of options - cryotherapy or liquid nitrogen; topical chemotherapy such as imiquimod or 5-fluoruracil and others.

How can you tell the difference between actinic keratosis and seborrheic keratosis?

Actinic keratoses are generally in sun exposed sites and have a rough sand paper texture. Seborrheic keratoses can arise anywhere and may be white/ hypopigmented or brown or black in colour and have a waxy to dry flaky texture.

What causes keratosis?

A build-up of the skin layers or keratin protein forms a keratosis.

What essential oils are good for actinic keratosis?

Essential oils are not used as treatment for actinic keratosis.

Can actinic keratosis spread?

No, but a single actinic keratosis can grow or expand in size.

Can actinic keratosis turn into cancer?

Rarely, they may form a squamous cell cancer / Bowens disease.

What percent of actinic keratosis turns into cancer?

It is rare and estimated to be < 1 %.

What is the most effective treatment for actinic keratosis?

1 - 4 sites may be treated with liquid nitrogen. if there are several sites, then cream such as imiquimod (Aldara, Zyclara) or 5 flurouracil (Efudex) are used. Sometimes therapy is combined with red light to enhance its effect.

What happens if Actinic keratosis is left untreated?

It may grow or expand slowly over time.

Is actinic keratosis benign or malignant?

It is benign, but a sign of sun damage to the most superficial layers of the skin.

How is actinic keratosis diagnosed?

It is a clinical diagnosis based on visualization by the dermatologist.

How do you get rid of keratosis?

1 - 4 sites may be treated with liquid nitrogen. if there are several sites, then cream such as imiquimod (Aldara, Zyclara) or 5 flurouracil (Efudex) are used. Sometimes therapy is combined with red light to enhance its effect

What does keratosis look like?

It can be rough or white like thickened rough skin.

What does actinic keratoses look like?

It can be rough or white and scaly like sand paper, sometimes it may be red or brown.

What are the different types of keratosis?

Hypertrophic, atrophic, pigmented, bowenoid are all forms of keratosis.

Is there an over the counter treatment for seborrheic keratosis?

No, there is not an effective treatment.

Does hydrocortisone help actinic keratosis?

No, it does not help them.

Does actinic keratosis come back?

Yes, they can recur as the skin regenerates after having had sun damage even if it occurred years ago.

How big can actinic keratosis get?

They can grow in size slowly; there is no fixed maximum size.

Will salicylic acid remove actinic keratosis?

It may soften or thin the actinic keratosis but there are other methods of removal.



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