Actinic Keratosis


Actinic keratosis is a common skin condition, but much lesser known than acne. It is rarely dangerous, but results in bumps that are rough and scaly. Actinic keratosis is most common in skin that is exposed to the sun such as the face, limbs, and scalp. Usually, actinic keratosis presents as red or pink, and the areas can be itchy or tender. Excessive sun exposure and damage cause this skin condition, and although it is not dangerous it can decrease confidence or be annoying.

Treatment options for actinic keratosis varies based on the degree of the condition and patient skin type or sensitivity. The most effective treatments include prescription medications, but few dermatological clinics in the area are accredited to dispense these medications. Instead, most clinics can only prescribe medications. However, Spectrum Dermatology is accredited by the Physicians Dispensing Association (PDA) to both prescribe and dispense prescriptions for actinic keratosis in the same appointment. Find out more about Spectrum Dermatology’s accreditation.

Identifying Actinic Keratosis

Treating actinic keratosis quickly and efficiently is important because in some cases these lesions may be pre-cancerous. Since the condition is caused by excessive sun damage, including the use of tanning beds or spending hours unprotected in the sun, it might be a precursor to cancer. Only a dermatologist can determine if a biopsy is needed. Trying to treat actinic keratosis with over the counter options is often ineffective and possibly risky. Removing a potentially pre-cancerous skin area can make it difficult for medical professionals to determine if a biopsy is necessary.

In some cases, untreated actinic keratosis can progress to skin cancer. Although it is most likely to progress to squamous cell carcinoma, there is always a risk of melanoma—the deadliest form of any skin cancer. It is always a good idea to have any bump, lump, tender skin area, or troubling spot evaluated by a skilled dermatologist. Sometimes actinic keratosis is wrongly identified by patients as anything from acne to a new mole or freckle. This can lead to putting off scheduling a dermatology appointment or not scheduling an evaluation at all.

Even though actinic keratosis is almost always benign and not dangerous, remember that your skin is the largest organ of the body. It is repeatedly exposed to hazardous UV rays even for people who regularly wear sunscreen and are mindful of time spent outdoors. Catching skin cancer early, including through early treatment of actinic keratosis, is the best form of skin cancer prevention.

Actinic Keratosis Treatment Scottsdale AZ | Spectrum Dermatology
Actinic Keratosis Treatment and Prevention

Precancerous Treatment of Actinic Keratosis

There is no one size fits all solution to treating and removing actinic keratosis or any pre-cancerous lesion. Trusting a dermatological clinic with a preeminent reputation and the latest, proven technology and medications will result in the most desirable results. Only during an evaluation for actinic keratosis can you discover which treatment plan is ideal for you. In some cases, a biopsy may be required to ensure the actinic keratosis has not become cancerous.

The most common types of treatments include topical medicines like Aldara, nitrogen cryotherapy to “freeze away” the actinic keratosis, and photodynamic therapy. All these treatments not only treat the current actinic keratosis site but also help decrease the odds of it developing into skin cancer.

Simultaneously, Spectrum Dermatology is committed to each patient having both healthy and attractive skin. It is rare for actinic keratosis to involve a large area, but it can develop in areas which are highly visible such as the face. If removing the actinic keratosis results in a scar or dark spot, there are cosmetic dermatological treatments available. Combining the removal of actinic keratosis with an aesthetic treatment is a common and popular option. In some cases, it may be necessary to wait a few weeks post-actinic keratosis removal before considering a cosmetic treatment.

Preventing Actinic Keratosis

Preventing actinic keratosis requires the same approach as preventing any type of sun damage. Wearing sunscreen any time skin is exposed to the sun (including when in cars or sitting by windows) and reapplying liberally every 90 minutes is a must. Using an SPF of 30 or higher, and choosing a sunscreen that is broadband to protect against all types of ultraviolet rays, is also necessary. Avoid unnecessary exposure to the sun whenever possible, and choose loose protective clothing when outdoors. Remember that even in the winter when skin might not burn, it can still get sun-damaged. Clouds and rain are not protective against ultraviolet rays. However, even those who are dedicated to protecting their skin from sun damage can and do develop actinic keratosis, other types of pre-cancerous lesions, and skin cancer.

Those with less melanin are at a higher risk, as are those who live in sunny regions or who have a family history of skin cancer. The only way to ensure skin cancer is caught early and does not progress is with regular “skin checks.” Seeing a dermatologist at least once per year for a full-body check is essential to healthy, cancer-free skin. Actinic keratosis is just one possible sign of extensive sun damage that should be evaluated immediately.

Scottsdale Actinic Keratosis Specialists

Spectrum Dermatology is your local, leading expert in the evaluation and treatment of actinic keratosis in the Scottsdale/Phoenix region. Combining the best in care with the latest treatments results in happy clients and healthy skin. Schedule your appointment today by calling (480) 948-8400.