What does actinic keratosis look like?
Actinic keratosis (aka AK, or solar keratosis) is a precancerous skin condition that mostly affects areas of the body that have been exposed to the sun over a prolonged period of time. AK are little bumps, spots or patches that differ in appearance and texture from surrounding skin, and can feel gritty, rough, or scaly. Sometimes they can crust over, weep, bleed or get inflamed. They might be darker brown, red, pink, white or a variety of different colours, depending on your own natural skin tone and colour.
They develop on exposed parts of the body:
- Lower arms
- Backs of hands
- Lower legs
- Upper chest
Who is at risk of getting actinic keratosis?
Because the damage caused by UV light is cumulative, AK tends to develop on those who’ve spent a lot of time out in the sun over many years without adequate protection. This means it mostly affects older people, those with pale skin, especially if they burn easily or have freckles/red hair, those who have worked outside a lot over many years, people who have used sunbeds, people with thinning hair or bald scalps, and those who live in sunny countries.
Can actinic keratosis get worse?
Many actinic keratoses fade away without any treatment, and those that don’t may not cause any problems. But if people with AK continue to expose skin to UV light without protection, and don’t get medical care for their existing lesions, things can get worse.
New AK can develop on other areas
If you’ve found AK on your forehead or elsewhere, and don’t protect your skin from the sun, it’s possible that you could develop more actinic keratosis on other exposed areas: on your scalp or hands or face, for example.
Existing AK can be further damaged, start itching or feel very sore with further sun damage.
It’s also possible for actinic keratoses to disappear and then reappear, weeks or months later.
AK can develop into squamous cell carcinoma
There’s a very small but serious risk of AK turning cancerous if left untreated or unmonitored. If an area of AK grows rapidly, bleeds, becomes ulcerous, feels painful, or changes shape or colour, then get it checked out as soon as possible.
Individual lesions spreading further
In some cases, AK can spread out as an area of hyperpigmented (differently coloured) skin, covering a wider area of skin.
Managing actinic keratosis
See our article What Is The Best Treatment For Actinic Keratosis? for more details about preventing and treating actinic keratosis.
Because of its association with skin cancer, AK is definitely something you should get a doctor to look at, rather than treat at home. Moisturising your skin with intensive, non-irritant creams or salves can help keep your skin in good, healthy condition, even if you need medical treatment as well. Natural emollients can help soften and smooth itchy, rough patches, nourish depleted or damaged skin, and can also support healing from any procedure to remove AK.
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!
Balmonds Skin Salvation
with hemp and beeswax
Balmonds Cooling Cream
with shea, menthol, aloe vera & lavender
Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream
with shea butter and calendula
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.