West Houston Dermatology

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Skin Conditions

Actinic Keratosis (AK)

WHAT IS ACTINIC KERATOSIS (AK)?

Most of us have fond memories of vacations at the beach, picnics in the park, or spending lazy summer afternoons just relaxing by the pool. Having fun in the sun can certainly be enjoyable, but spending too much time exposed to sunlight can be damaging to your skin. It can lead to a skin condition called actinic keratosis, or AK for short.

Actinic Keratosis

WHAT DO AKS LOOK LIKE?

AKs are the lesions that are found on parts of the body frequently exposed to sunlight, such as the face, scalp, arms, or hands. AKs may appear as patches of rough, dry, or scaly skin and can be tan, pink, or skincolored.

WHO GETS AKS?

AK lesions are most likely to appear in fair-skinned individuals over 40 years of age, especially those with years of prolonged sun exposure. In fact, AKs occur in more than 50% of older, fair-skinned people in hot, sunny areas. However, AKs can occur in people with dark hair and dark eyes as well. In places exposed to high-intensity sunlight all year long, such as Florida or southern California, AKs can be found in people in their teens and twenties.

WHY TREAT AKS?

Spending a lot of time in the sun can be harmful to your skin. Over time, the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight can damage skin cells. These damaged cells can become AKs that may eventually develop into a certain type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma can metastasize, or spread, to deeper tissues. This is why it’s so important to treat AKs as early as possible.

HOW CAN I HELP PREVENT FUTURE AKS?

While outdoor activites can certainly be enjoyable, too much time in the sun can be harmful to your skin. In addition to AK lesions, excessive exposure to sunlight can cause sunburn, wrinkles, rashes, and even skin cancer. In fact, more than 90% of all skin cancers occur on sun-exposed skin.

To help prevent AKs and future damage to your skin by the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that you take a few basic steps to protect yourself:

  • Avoid excessive exposure to sunlight, especially during peak sunlight hours (10AM-4PM).
  • Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Apply sunscreen at least 15 to 30 minutes prior to sun exposure.
  • Select a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB light.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours when outdoors, even on cloudy days.
  • When outdoors, wear a wide-brimmed hat and protective clothing to minimize exposure to sunlight.
Treatments for actinic keratosis