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Actinic keratosis, sometimes referred to as AK, is a precancerous growth on the skin. It is one of the most common skin conditions treated by dermatologists in the United States and it is estimated that some 40 million people experience it each year. These growths appear most often on the face, ears, hands or on a balding head.
Actinic keratosis can appear as red or brown, irregular spots or patches on the skin. They are also sometimes severely raised, patchy, or even scaly. Due to their similarity in appearance to age spots, they are often confused with age spots. When AK occurs on the lips, it most often looks like dried or chapped lips that do not heal. It can also look like scaly, white patches on the lips. In rare situations, an AK may actually look like a small animal horn. These lesions require immediate intervention from a medical professional as they can indicate potential squamous cell carcinoma.
AK is caused by consistent exposure to the sun or tanning via indoor tanning equipment such as a tanning bed. As the skin is exposed to too much sun over time, it absorbs harmful UV lights leading to patches that feel rough and scaly or look discolored. Some people are at greater risk for being affected by UV rays, including those with fair skin or albinism, red or blond hair, or light-colored eyes. Certain medical conditions can also put someone at higher risk for AK, including being an organ transplant recipient or having a weakened immune system.
Treating AK depends on many factors, including:
Those with a few AKs can go through some easy procedures in a doctor’s office. At-home treatment may be recommended as well for those with several AKs. Treatments can include:
All cases of actinic keratosis are not the same, therefore we recommend seeing a specialist to help determine which treatment option is the best for you.