Skin Health and Conditions: Actinic Keratosis

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Characteristics of Actinic Keratosis

Actinic Keratosis, commonly abbreviated as AK, is the presence of rough small patches and spots on the skin, which usually develop because of long-term exposure to sun. The size of AK usually ranges between 2 and 6 millimeter in diameter, which is comparable to the size of a ballpoint pen up to the size of a small eraser. They can easily be recognized because the patch is rough, scaly and reddish in color, while the top has yellowish to whitish spots.  Also known as solar keratosis, AK is hard to touch, and there is a tingling and prickling pain when pressure is applied to it. Although the skin is commonly affected, AK can also be present in other parts of the body, such as the lips, around the neck, scalps, the lower portion of the ear, and the back fo the hands and forearms.

Actinic Keratosis Is A Pre-cancer Warning Sign

Development of AKs is considered as an early sign of skin cancer, because if left untreated, it can eventually advance into squamous cell carcinoma (also known as SCC), one of the most common types of skin cancer. It should be noted, though, that only a small percentage of those with AKs had eventually advanced into the SCC stage. What increases the risk of an individual with AK to have skin cancer is his exposure to direct sunlight for a long period of time.

Who Are At Risk For Developing Actinic Keratosis?

  • People who are working outdoors and are usually exposed to extreme heat of the sun
  • People who had numerous cases of severe sunburns in the past
  • People with fair skin complexion, red or blonde hair, and green or blue eyes
  • Older people with weakened immune system
  • People who are taking immunosuppressant medications

What Are The Notable Symptoms of Actinic Keratosis?

  • Appearance of lesions usually starts with changes in skin color and characteristics; begin as scaly and flat.
  • Growth of patches starts from gray, white and pink to, yellowish and red. The hardness of the patch is similar to a wart.
  • Sometimes the areas with lesions are not visible, but the hardness and tingling pain are easier to feel.

Remember That Prevention Is Always Better Than Cure

  • Never go outdoors without proper skin protection, especially during hot seasons and under extreme sunlight.
  • Since sun exposure is the main cause of AKs, avoid direct sunlight if possible at all.
  • If on a beach, apply sunscreen lotion that effectively blocks ultraviolet rays.
  • If working outdoors, always wear adequate clothing – such as long sleeves, large hats and pants.

Related Video on Actinic Keratosis:

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“Actinic Keratosis.” Skin Cancer. Retrieved online on August 18, 2014 from

“Actinic Keratosis Definition.” Mayo Clinic. Retrieved online on August 18, 2014 from

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