Actinic keratosis

An actinic keratosis (ak-TIN-ik ker-uh-TOE-sis) is a rough, scaly patch on your skin that develops from years of exposure to the sun. It's most commonly found on your face, lips, ears, back of your hands, forearms, scalp or neck.

Also known as solar keratosis, an actinic keratosis enlarges slowly and usually causes no signs or symptoms other than a patch or small spot on your skin. These lesions take years to develop, usually first appearing in older adults.

A small percentage of actinic keratosis lesions can eventually become skin cancer. You can reduce your risk of actinic keratosis by minimizing your sun exposure and protecting your skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays.


Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

The signs and symptoms of an actinic keratosis include:

  • Rough, dry or scaly patch of skin, usually less than 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) in diameter
  • Flat to slightly raised patch or bump on the top layer of skin
  • In some cases, a hard, wart-like surface
  • Color as varied as pink, red or brown, or flesh-colored
  • Itching or burning in the affected area

Actinic keratoses are found primarily on areas exposed to the sun, including your face, lips, ears, back of your hands, forearms, scalp and neck.

When to see a doctor

Because it can be difficult to distinguish between noncancerous spots and cancerous ones, it's best to have new skin changes evaluated by a doctor — especially if a spot or lesion persists, grows or bleeds.

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