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What Are Actinic Keratoses?

Actinic Keratosis (AKs), also called solar keratoses, are abnormal skin areas that are ‘pre-cancerous’ in nature.  They usually appear as small rough, red, scaly bumps or patches of skin commonly found on the face, scalp, upper trunk, arms, and hands.

Individuals develop these scaly lesions due to excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or from tanning beds. Actinic keratoses are most common in adults over the age of 40.


Who Can Get Actinic Keratoses?

Anyone can get actinic keratoses. People are at a higher risk of developing this condition if one or more of the following describes them:

Symptoms of AK

Actinic keratoses generally don’t develop quickly and are the result of the accumulation of UV radiation causing skin damage over many years.   As noted, the lesions themselves tend to be red, rough-textured, and scaly, and form on skin areas regularly exposed to the sun.  Often the lesions are tender and act like areas that ‘won’t heal’ and can even bleed with minimal trauma, such as vigorous washing.  Sometimes they can become thickened, warty or almost horn-like, which can be rather painful.

Preventive Measures

The following measures are the best ways to avoid developing actinic keratoses:

–  Limit Exposure to Sun

Avoid sun exposure particularly between 10 am and 3 pm, when the sun’s rays are strongest. Accumulated sun exposure results in most cases of actinic keratoses.

– Use Sunscreen

If you cannot avoid sun exposure altogether, it is best to protect your skin with a high-SPF (sun protection factor) sunscreen. Apply one with SPF 30 at least, but even better to use one with as high a number as you are willing to wear.  Keep in mind that these chemicals only last a few hours, so re-applying periodically is necessary, especially if you are sweating or spending time in water.

– Cover Up

Some of the easiest measures you can take involve covering up a bit more.  Consider wearing a broad-brimmed hat rather than baseball caps – these truly cover more areas of sensitive facial, nose, and ears skin than ‘ballcaps’ do, and can make a great difference over time (the wider the brim, the better!).  Also consider wearing long-sleeved shirts, neckerchiefs, and other coverings when you know you are going to be sun-exposed for any considerable length of time.  It is not necessary to wear tight, constricting, uncomfortable clothing to accomplish this – loose-fitting, ‘flowing’, comfortable clothing works just as well for these purposes.

 – Avoid Tanning Beds

Tanning beds emit very intense levels of UV rays (much more concentrated than sunlight) that are designed to force the skin into its protective ‘tanning response’ much more quickly than natural sun exposure.  Despite common beliefs, tanning beds are NOT safer than outdoor tanning – in fact, they are even worse because the skin is exposed to a great amount more of UV radiation than normal in a much shorter period than naturally.  This damages the skin even more rapidly than natural sun exposure.

– Get Regular Checkups

If you have a strong history of sun exposure over the years and especially if you are at higher risk – as noted above – it is smart to have your skin examined regularly by a dermatologist.  Despite fears, these exams are usually very simple and involve assessing your skin cancer risk, inspecting to see if there are any concerning moles or other lesions, and addressing any other skin issues you may have.  In the case that an area of concern is identified, your dermatologist will discuss this with you, and both of you will decide the best way to address – whether this involves just watching for changes, biopsy, in-office treatment, or other measures.

Treatment for Actinic Keratoses

It is important to have your AKs diagnosed and treated as early as possible due to the fact that some AKs (possibly up to 10%) may develop into a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.

Cryotherapy is the term for treatment of skin lesions by applying liquid nitrogen, and commonly referred to as ‘freezing’ or ‘burning’.  This method is quick and easy and is the most frequently used treatment for AKs.  Cryotherapy causes the bad cells to freeze, die, and eventually peel off, leaving fresh healthy skin in its place.

There are other methods for treating AKs and these include chemical peels, lasers, blue light therapy, and topical chemotherapy agents, although none of these are necessarily superior to cryotherapy.  Where many of these methods are most useful, however, is in treating large areas of AKs or regions of very badly sun-damaged skin.  Your dermatologist will discuss these treatments with you if he or she feels they are necessary.

Dermatologist in Lake Worth, Texas

Each patient’s skin and UV exposure history is unique and therefore needs personalized attention and treatment to help keep it healthy. Dr. Matthew Mittelbronn of Lakeview Dermatology will evaluate your skin and individual circumstances and provide you the best treatment possible.

Book an appointment with us today. You may also contact our office by calling (817) 752-5256. We look forward to seeing you here and partnering with you for a lifetime of healthy skin!

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