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Medical & Surgical Dermatology

Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratoses (AKs) are so common today that treatment for these lesions ranks as one of the most frequent reasons that people consult a dermatologist. Most people simply want the lesion removed for cosmetic reasons and are unaware that they have developed a potentially serious skin condition that can progress to squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer that can spread.

You may feel an AK before you see it. A small patch of skin can feel rough, dry, and scaly. While this lesion may not be visible, the surrounding skin usually shows signs of sun damage, such as broken blood vessels, yellowish discoloration, or blotchy pigment.

Visible AKs can take many forms, including:

  • Rough scaly patches, crusts, or sores that range in size from a pinpoint to larger than a quarter. The color varies. Some AKs are red or skin-colored. Others are brown, gray, or yellowish black.

  • Brownish patches, which may be mistaken for age spots.

  • Large patches that resemble a rash can occur when numerous AKs develop; patients often think they have a rash that will not clear.

  • A growth that resembles an animal’s horn. The shape may be straight or curved, and the size tends to range from that of a pinhead to a pencil eraser.

The cause of most AKs is unprotected, long-term or intense exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. AKs tend to form in areas that receive the greatest amount of sun exposure, such as the face, lower lip, scalp, ears, neck, forearms, and back of the hands. Some people develop AKs on their legs or trunk.

Since AKs usually occur after years of unprotected sun exposure, most patients do not develop their first AKs until their 60s. However, AKs can appear at any age. Today, dermatologists are finding AKs in their younger patients. Some patients are in their teens.


If you believe you have an AK, be sure to contact us for an appointment.  Dr. Clifton has been extensively trained in the detection and treatment skin conditions, such as AKs. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent an AK from progressing to a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.