Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis is the most common type of pre-cancer of the skin. Actinic keratosis is caused by excess sun exposure over time, whether from spending time outdoors without protecting the skin or through tanning beds. If left untreated, it is possible for actinic keratosis to develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a common type of skin cancer. For this reason, it is important to seek care from a qualified dermatologist, like Dr. Liz Damstetter, if you notice any signs or symptoms.

What is Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic keratosis is a growth that develops on the skin as a result of excess sun exposure over time. These growths tend to be rough and scaly and are most often found on the face, lips, ears, scalp, neck, forearms, or hands as these areas receive the most sun exposure. Actinic keratoses are also known as solar keratoses. They are considered precancerous as they may develop into squamous cell carcinoma. This occurs in about 5-10% of actinic keratoses. Treatment will help prevent progression into cancer.


“Dr. Liz is truly the best dermatologist I’ve ever been to. She is attentive, kind, and genuinely cares about her patients and their overall skin health. I can not recommend her enough!!!”

“Wonderful experience here! The doctor took the time to educate me on a variety of cosmetic options and gave her candid opinion resulting in just the right amount of cosmetic adjustments! Her staff was delightful and attentive! I would highly recommend for general derm needs and cosmetic adjustments.”

“Dr. Damstetter was the first dermatologist I trusted to do my Botox. She is both knowledgeable and professional and did a fantastic job. I will be using her for any and all of my future needs.”

What Causes Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic keratoses are caused by excess sun exposure over the course of your lifetime. They can also be caused by UV exposure from tanning beds. While anyone may develop actinic keratosis, some patients are at a higher risk. Risk factors include:

  • Fair skin, especially that which tends to burn or freckle
  • Red or blond hair and light-colored (blue, gray, or green) eyes
  • History of sunburn
  • Family history of actinic keratoses or skin cancer
  • Age 40 or older
  • Living in a sunny climate
  • Working outdoors or participating in outdoor hobbies
  • Weakened immune system

Liz Damstetter, MD

Board-Certified Dermatologist

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Symptoms of Actinic Keratosis

The most notable symptom of actinic keratosis is the rough, scaly, or dry patch of skin, which is typically less than one inch in diameter. Actinic keratosis may be flat or slightly raised above the skin’s surface. In some cases, they may be discolored and appear pink, red, or brown. Patches may bleed, itch, burn, or crust.


Actinic Keratosis Diagnosis and Treatment

In many cases, Dr. Damstetter can diagnose an actinic keratosis with a visual exam alone. However, it may be necessary to complete a skin biopsy, especially to rule out other conditions. This involves removing a small sample of the skin to test in a lab.

After making a diagnosis, Dr. Damstetter will suggest removing an actinic keratosis to prevent it from developing into skin cancer. This can be achieved using several methods. These include:

  • Cryotherapy, or freezing the growth with liquid nitrogen
  • Curettage, or scraping the actinic keratosis away
  • Laser therapy, in which an ablative laser is used to remove the actinic keratosis
  • Photodynamic therapy, in which a light-sensitive chemical solution is applied to the actinic keratosis before exposing it to light, thereby destroying the growth

In addition to these treatments, some patients may benefit from medicated gels or creams to remove actinic keratoses. This is particularly useful for patients who have multiple actinic keratoses. Chemical peels are another frequently used option to address larger areas of actinic keratosis.

Schedule an Appointment

To learn more about actinic keratosis treatment, schedule an appointment with Dr. Damstetter. Call Reserve Dermatology in Glenview, Illinois or contact us online.

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