Actinic keratosis is a thickening of the stratum corneum, or the outermost layer of the skin.

Specifically, it’s a kind of skin lesion that forms in response to prolonged and unhealthy sun exposure. For this reason, it’s also called “solar keratosis”.

How can you recognise actinic keratosis on your skin?                             

From a clinical point of view, actinic keratoses present themselves as erythematous plaques or papules. They appear, above all, in areas that are chronically exposed to the sun, specifically:

  • the face,
  • the ears,
  • the shoulders,
  • the back of the hands,
  • bare scalps.

Keratoses usually cover an area of skin ranging from a few millimetres to more than 2 centimetres. They typically feel like sandpaper when touched, so much so that at times it’s easier to identify them by touch than by sight.

Their colour varies from pink, to brownish in cases of pigmented keratoses.

They’re normally asymptomatic, even if some patients complain of itchiness and tingling.

Their evolution is variable: they can spontaneously recede or remain unvaried, but in 10% of cases they can become malignant. Signs of progression include hardening of lesions or increases in their size, as well as bleeding and erythema.


Who typically develops skin keratosis?                 

The risk factors for developing actinic keratosis are various. They include:

  • gender (it’s more widespread in males)
  • advanced age
  • fair complexion (phototype I and II)
  • heightened cumulative sun exposure
  • immunosuppression
  • genetic pigment disorders, such as albinism

The relative risk of developing actinic keratoses is higher if you expose yourself often to the sun or following repeated sunburn, especially before 20 years of age.


How widespread is actinic keratosis?                     

Actinic keratoses affect Caucasian subjects who live close to the Equator more than other groups. The greatest prevalence is therefore found in Australia, followed by the United States and Europe.

Moreover, incidence increases with age. Thus, they affect less than 10% of Caucasian subjects between the ages of 20 and 29 and up to 80% of subjects between the ages of 60 and 69.



How should I treat skin with actinic keratoses?     

Often those suffering from actinic keratoses underestimate the disease and don’t go to a dermatologist. And yet, it’s important to not ignore actinic keratoses and treat them appropriately, according to advice from specialists.

The most common treatments are:

  • Topical therapy with creams or gels based in 5-fluorouracil, Imiquimod, or
  • Cryotherapy, particularly when there are few keratoses. It involves applying liquid nitrogen to individual lesions, which then become crusty and fall off.
  • Laser therapy, or treatment that uses CO2 lasers to remove individual lesions.
  • Photodynamic therapy, which selectively destroys altered cells through the topical application of photosensitising medications activated in situ by red LED light.



How can you prevent actinic keratosis?                 

In addition to the above treatments, it’s important that those who suffer from actinic keratosis pay attention to reducing the risks of sun exposure.

Here’s how:

  • Apply specific products for the prevention of actinic keratosis to your face and exposed areas that are enriched by active ingredients that prevent sun damage and that are strongly protective (with an SPF of 30 or more).
  • Avoid exposure to sunlight in the central hours of the day (11:00-16:00) in summer.
  • Protect yourself with sunglasses, jackets, and hats.
  • Avoid using tanning beds.


Learn about AK Barrier: the Ceramol solution to protect your skin from UV rays and prevent damage resulting from excessive sun exposure.


The above information is not medical advice. It is given purely as an indication and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.

You might be interested

treating irritated skin


What causes skin irritation? What are the primary symptoms? Reddened skin caused by the dilation of blood vessels- the most common symptom of a skin problem. Stinging sensations or itchiness...

how to treat acne-prone skin


What is acne-prone skin?               Skin affected by acne tends to appear oily and covered in various kinds of blemishes: blackheads whiteheads reddening papules or cysts...