Covid-19 Information
Actinic Keratosis

Actinic Keratosis

Treatment For Actinic Keratosis

Gainesville Dermatology & Skin Surgery offers effective actinic keratosis treatment customized for your unique needs. We also provide an array of treatments for other skin conditions, including melanoma, and other skin cancer types. Our Gainesville dermatologists provide the highest level of patient care in a state-of-the-art facility. Early detection and treatment are the best tools in your arsenal when it comes to skin conditions. Contact our office today to schedule a dermatologist appointment and to learn more about our available skin care treatments.

What Is Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic keratosis (AK), also known as solar keratosis, is one of the most common types of precancer found on the skin and usually appears as a rough, scaly patch. This condition forms due to long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds. Because of this, if a patient has one actinic keratosis, they are likely to develop additional actinic keratoses, which may appear on the face, ears, lips, scalp, neck, forearms, and back of the hands. If left untreated, this condition could develop into the dangerous skin cancer squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

What Causes Actinic Keratosis?

Frequent or intense exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds causes actinic keratosis. Because of the length of time required for actinic keratosis to form, it usually only appears in individuals over 40-years old. Additionally, having a light complexion or red or blonde hair can increase your chances of developing actinic keratosis. If you live in a sunny location, work outdoors, tend to burn or freckle easily, or have a weakened immune system, your risks are also increased.

Actinic Keratosis Symptoms

As we age, skin conditions become more frequent, and it's important to know what warrants a trip to a dermatologist. Knowing the following signs of actinic keratosis can help you catch the condition early before it has a chance to develop into squamous cell carcinoma.

  • Rough, dry, or scaly patch of skin, typically less than 1-inch diameter in size.
  • Flat or slightly raised patch or bump on the skin.
  • Hard, wart-like patch on the skin.
  • Patch of skin that is pink, red, or brown.
  • Patch of skin that itches, burns, crusts, or bleeds.

Actinic Keratosis VS Seborrheic Keratosis

Seborrheic keratosis is another common type of skin condition developing as people age. It is often confused with actinic keratosis due to its appearance and location on body areas often exposed to the sun. Like actinic keratosis, seborrheic keratosis can vary in texture, color, and size, and can appear in clusters or as a single spot. However, unlike actinic keratosis, seborrheic keratosis will not develop into skin cancer.

Because it can be difficult to self-diagnose cancerous versus non-cancerous skin conditions, it's always best to seek the counsel of a certified dermatologist, especially if the condition is new, worsens, grows, or bleeds.

Actinic Keratosis Diagnosis

A board-certified dermatologist can diagnose actinic keratosis during an in-office skin examination. During this, your dermatologist will ask questions about your health, medications, and symptoms and carefully examine your skin. While most diagnoses can be made during the examination, the doctor may want to perform additional tests if there are any doubts, including a skin biopsy. This can usually be performed in the office and only requires a topical numbing agent.

Actinic Keratosis Treatment

Actinic keratosis can sometimes go away on its own or may develop into multiple actinic keratoses. Sun exposure can increase the likelihood an actinic keratosis may reappear. Because it is difficult to determine whether a patch will develop into skin cancer, an actinic keratosis is usually removed as a precaution. In some older patients or patients with medical issues, we may opt for monitoring the condition until removal is necessary. Actinic keratosis patches may be removed with any of the following treatments as determined by your doctor.


Medicated cream or gel may be prescribed if you have several actinic keratoses. This may include fluorouracil (Carac or Fluoroplex), imiquimod (Aldara or Zyclara), ingenol mebutate (Picato), or diclofenac (Solaraze). Common side effects of these medications include redness or scaling of the skin and a burning sensation. Side effects typically clear up after a few weeks.


Cryotherapy is the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze off certain skin conditions. The intense cold causes the skin to blister and peel, sloughing off the damaged skin cells as the skin begins to heal. This is one of the most common ways to remove actinic keratoses and only takes a few minutes in-office. While this procedure is safe and effective, possible side effects include blisters, scarring, skin texture changes, changes in skin color of the affected area, and infection.


Curettage or scraping involves using a tool called a curet to scrape off damaged skin cells. Sometimes this procedure is followed up with electrosurgery, where the doctor will use an additional instrument to cut and destroy affected skin tissue with an electric current. Possible side effects include scarring, changes in skin color of the affected area, and infection.

Laser Therapy

Laser therapy is becoming more popular as a technique to treat actinic keratosis. During the procedure, the doctor will use an ablative laser device to destroy the affected skin, which allows new skin to grow. Possible side effects include scarring and changes in skin color of the affected area.

Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic therapy utilizes a light-sensitive chemical solution that is applied to the skin. A special light is then exposed to the treated area, which will destroy the skin cells affected by actinic keratosis. Possible side effects can include redness, swelling, and a burning sensation during treatment.

Actinic Keratosis Prevention

While actinic keratosis may not always be preventable due to existing factors such as age, skin color, and family history, sun damage prevention methods can go a long way in preventing the development of actinic keratosis. This includes the following.

  • Limit sun exposure. This is especially important during the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., even if it is cloudy. You should also avoid staying out in the sun for any length of time that may incur a sunburn or sun tan.
  • Use sunscreen. Use a broad-spectrum protection sunscreen every day with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. If you have lighter skin or features such as hair or eyes, you should wear sunscreen with a higher SPF. Apply sunscreen on every part that will be exposed to the sun at least 15 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours. Use a lip balm with SPF for your lips as well.
  • Cover up. When outdoors, wear tightly woven clothing that does not permit the sun to reach your skin. Additionally, wear broad brim hats, which provide more protection for your shoulders, neck, and ears than baseball caps or visors.
  • Do not use tanning beds. While tanning beds may be marketed as a healthier option, this is not true. Tanning beds still expose your skin to UV rays, which are responsible for the development of actinic keratosis and skin cancers.
  • Check your skin regularly. When it comes to catching skin cancer early, you are on the frontline. Be sure to regularly check your skin for any changes to moles, freckles, bumps, birthmarks, or any new marks or spots. Use a mirror to check hard-to-see areas such as your scalp, neck, ears, and face. You should also examine the tops and undersides of your arms and hands.