What Does Actinic Keratosis Look Like?

What is actinic keratosis?

Actinic keratosis, sometimes known as solar keratosis, is damage to the skin caused by long-term sun exposure and UV radiation; it’s a precursor for skin cancer so must be treated seriously. Patches of actinic keratosis tend to appear on parts of the body most exposed to the sun: the scalp, back of the hands, tops of ears, forehead, back of the arms, shoulders or neck.

Who gets actinic keratosis?

There are several risk factors which increase your likelihood of developing actinic keratosis, and some people have several at once. The most at risk are:

  • people who have had long-term, unprotected exposure to the sun
  • people who’ve worked outside for much of their lives
  • people who live in sunny regions
  • People who use tanning beds
  • people with thinning hair or bald scalps
  • people who have had bad sunburns or tend to burn easily
  • people with light eyes and skin
  • people over 40
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • people who have already had actinic keratosis

What does actinic keratosis look like?

Patches of actinic keratosis can vary considerably in appearance from person to person. What it looks like can also depend on where on the body the skin is affected, and on the colour and tone of the surrounding skin, but the most common symptoms of actinic keratosis are:

  • Rough, bumpy lesions on the skin, ranging in size from tiny to about 1 inch in diameter
  • Sandpaper-like texture
  • Change of colour from surrounding skin: red, brown, tan, silvery or pink
  • Scaly appearance
  • Can have a wart-like or crusty appearance

What does actinic keratosis feel like?

Many people discover their actinic keratosis by touch, before they see it, so it’s worth being aware of how different areas of skin feel as well as what they look like. Areas of actinic keratosis can feel rough, gritty and differently textured to surrounding skin, and can be more sensitive, painful or itchy. Sometimes the affected skin can bleed or weep, or - rarely - turn into an ulcerated sore.

Look out for sores or bumps that don’t heal, feel different, itchy, or that keep coming back.

If you notice changes in your skin, either its texture or its appearance, especially on skin that is regularly exposed to the sun, get it checked out by a doctor.

How is actinic keratosis managed?

Treatment for actinic keratosis can be divided into the following strategies:

  • Surgery
  • Phototherapy
  • Topical medication
  • A combination of the above

See our article What Is The Best Treatment For Actinic Keratosis? for more details about preventing and treating actinic keratosis.

Although actinic keratosis isn’t something you can treat with emollients, moisturising your skin with intensive, non-irritant creams or salves can help keep skin in good, healthy condition before and after treatment. We advise customers not to apply oil-based balms like Skin Salvation to skin exposed to direct sunlight, as the high oil content can cause burning and we don’t add sunscreens to our products. Apply last thing at night instead!

Recommended products:

Balmonds Skin Salvation
with hemp and beeswax

Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream
with shea butter and calendula

Skin Conditions

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