Actinic keratosis, also known as solar keratosis, are dry scaly patches of skin or crusty growth caused by damage from years of sun exposure. You’ll most often see the plural, “keratoses,” because there is seldom just one.
Actinic keratoses are most commonly seen in fair-skinned people, especially those with blue eyes, red hair, freckles and a tendency to burn easily in the sun. Men are affected more often than women. People who have lived or worked abroad in a sunny place, or who have worked outdoors or enjoy outdoor hobbies, are most at risk.
The patches can be pink, red or brown in colour, and can vary in size from a few millimetres to a few centimetres across. The skin in affected areas can sometimes become very thick, and occasionally the patches can look like small horns or spikes.
Actinic keratoses are found on areas of skin that are exposed to the sun, such as the:
• face, especially the nose and forehead
• forearms and backs of hands
• in men, on the rims of the ears and bald scalps
• in women, on the legs below the knees
The patches are usually harmless and sometimes get better on their own, but they can be sore, itchy and look unsightly. There is also a small risk that the patches could develop into a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma if they're not treated.
You should see your GP if you think you may have actinic keratoses, so they can discuss treatment options with you. If you do have actinic keratoses, it indicates that you have sustained sun damage and it could develop any kind of skin cancer. Always check with your GP.