What is actinic keratosis?
Actinic keratosis, otherwise known as solar keratosis or AK, is a type of precancerous skin lesion caused by long term sun exposure. It tends to affect paler skinned people who are out in the sun a lot: that includes people who work outside, who live in hot sunny regions, long-distance truckers, or those who play a lot of golf, for example. AK takes years to develop, so it’s not a question of a few days without sun protection; it affects the side of your face which is most exposed to the sun when driving, for example, or golfers’ ungloved hands. The middle aged or elderly are most at risk as they’ve had several decades for the problem to develop.
What does AK look like?
Actinic keratosis lesions are small patches of skin that look and feel different from the surrounding area. They may be rough, thickened, scaly, inflamed or red/pink/brown (depending on normal skin tone). The lesions can itch or sting, and can be quite uncomfortable at times. They are often raised bumps, a bit like warts, but can be flat too.
Why would you worry about actinic keratosis?
One concern with AK is that the lesions can develop into a kind of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma. The good news is that only a very few AK lesions will become cancerous , maybe only one in 1000, and those that do are easily treatable if caught early. But because it’s difficult to tell the difference between potentially cancerous lesions and those that are completely benign, it’s very important to get a clear diagnosis and treatment plan from a doctor; don’t ignore any patches of rough, itchy or painful skin!
The other important point to make is that the conditions that make AK likely (pale-skinned, long-term sun exposure, tanning beds, easily sunburnt) are very similar to the risk factors for a much more serious skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma. Many people with AK go on to develop non-melanoma skin cancer, so it’s vital to get skin changes checked out by a doctor.
The takeaway message is: don’t worry about actinic keratosis unnecessarily, but do act.
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, and can help ease the uncomfortable symptoms of itchy skin.
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.