close up of hair on a person's head


Actinic keratoses (AKs) are pink to red scaly spots that arise in areas of chronic sun damage. They are caused by ultraviolet damage to the skin. If left untreated, some of these lesions will turn into squamous cell skin cancer.

AKs Appearance:

  • Actinic keratoses (AKs) present as small, dry, scaly, or crusty patches of skin.
  • They can vary in color from red, light or dark tan, white, pink, flesh-toned, or a mix of colors.
  • Due to their rough texture, they are often more easily felt than seen.

Where They Occur:

  • These lesions commonly develop on sun-exposed areas like the face, lips, ears, scalp, shoulders, neck, back of hands, and forearms.
  • Another variation called actinic cheilitis is found on the lip.


  • While only 5-10 percent of AKs progress to skin cancer, most squamous cell carcinomas start as AKs.
  • It is advisable to consult a dermatologist if you suspect you have an AK.

Treatments For Actinic Keratosis

If actinic keratoses are identified early, they can be treated before progressing into skin cancer.

Consult your dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis of the lesion and suitable treatment recommendations. It is crucial to detect and address AKs promptly to prevent them from developing into cancer, especially if they appear on the head or neck where skin cancers can be more aggressive.

Your treatment options will be based on the number and location of lesions, your age, and overall health.

Take measures to shield yourself from further sun damage. Ensure sun protection by seeking shade and using broad-spectrum sunscreen, along with sun-safe clothing, hats, and eyewear daily, even on cloudy days. Refrain from indoor tanning and avoid sunburn.


Cryosurgery is a common method employed by dermatologists to address various skin issues. It involves applying liquid nitrogen to the skin area, causing it to freeze. Different levels of freezing lead to peeling with light freezing, blistering with moderate freezing, and scabbing with hard freezing.
The primary applications of cryosurgery include treating warts, seborrheic keratoses, and actinic keratoses. Additionally, it is used for small benign growths and certain types of skin cancers.

Electrodesiccation and Curettage (ED&C):

Scraping or burning off skin growths, also known as electrodesiccation and curettage, is a method employed for less severe skin cancers, pre-cancers, and benign growths. The procedure involves injecting a local anesthetic, followed by scraping off the abnormal tissue using a specialized tool. The area is then cauterized to stop bleeding. If the growth is cancerous, this process may be repeated. The wound requires dressing until it heals, often leaving a small white mark.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a treatment modality that utilizes photosensitizing agents in conjunction with light to eradicate precancerous cells. The effectiveness of these drugs is contingent upon activation through specific types of light.
Aminolevulinic acid (ALA or Levulan) is a medication applied to the skin to treat actinic keratoses This treatment involves a special blue light to activate the drug.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a procedure done in the office, and patients remain awake during the procedure.