What is Actinic Keratosis?
Actinic keratosis (also known as solar keratosis) is a rough patch of scaly, crusty and often bumpy patch or lesion that forms on the skin. Common locations of actinic keratosis are found on the scalp, back of the hands, the face, nose, ears, back of the forearms, the neck, upper chest and the shoulders.
The size of actinic keratosis varies from tiny to an inch or more in diameter. Similarly, color variations range from light to dark with variations throughout the patches. It may even appear as a cracked and peeling lower lip that is not helped by lip balm or lip treatment.
Be aware of these other symptoms:
- Flat to slightly raised patch or bump on the top layer of skin
- In some cases, a hard, wart like surface
- Color as varied as pink, red or brown
- Itching or burning in the affected area
- Crusty skin patches
- Uneven, sandpaper texture
Unfortunately, developing actinic keratosis does increase risk of skin cancer and sometimes called a pre-cancer. If treated early, almost all actinic keratoses can be cleared up or removed before they develop into skin cancer. If left untreated, these spots may progress to squamous cell carcinoma.
Risk Factors of Actinic Keratosis?
When diagnosed promptly, almost all actinic keratosis can be successfully removed. Anyone can develop actinic keratoses. Here are some risk factors that make it more likely to have this skin condition:
- Are older than 40
- Live in a sunny place or geographical location close to the equator
- Have a history of frequent or intense sun exposure or sunburn
- Have red or blond hair, and blue or light-colored eyes or have fair skin
- Tend to freckle or burn when exposed to sunlight
- Have a personal history of an actinic keratosis or skin cancer
- Have a weak immune system as a result of chemotherapy, leukemia, AIDS or organ transplant medications
- Been exposed a number of years of UV light exposure.
- Use or have used tanning beds
Treatment of Actinic Keratosis
While some cases of actinic keratosis may resolve naturally on their own, a person is highly recommended to seek medical treatments. It is safest to get early treatment by just removing the patch to prevent the development of squamous cell skin cancer. It can be difficult to distinguish between noncancerous spots and cancerous ones. So it’s best to have skin changes evaluated by a doctor to encourage treatment to prevent the development of cancer.
Your treatment options depend on number of lesions, location on the body or face, age and overall health. There are several different potential treatment options, which may include a combination of the following:
- Surgical procedures
- Topical treatments
- Photodynamic therapy
- Combination therapy
Prevention of Actinic Keratosis
Sun safety is necessary to help prevent development and recurrence of actinic keratosis. Take these steps to protect your skin from the sun:
- Limit your time in the sun.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (at least 30).
- Use sunscreen or lip balm with SPF protection on your lips.
- Cover up. Wear tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs and broad-brimmed hat that provides full face and neck protection.
- Avoid tanning beds. The UV exposure from a tanning bed can cause just as much skin damage as a tan acquired from the sun.
- Examine your skin regularly, looking for the development of new skin growths or changes in existing moles, freckles, bumps and birthmarks.
Actinic Keratosis in the Treatment Room
Over your career as an esthetician, you will identify actinic keratosis many times in your treatment room. As with other skin conditions, you will want to refer the client to a physician to get the spot or area analyzed and treatment started. Chemical peels have demonstrated benefits for reducing and removing actinic keratosis. After treatment and once the client has been cleared of the problematic area, the esthetician can continue the chemical peels for the preventative measure against reoccurrence of actinic keratosis.