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Actinic Keratosis

Actinic Keratosis is a rough, dry, scaly growth that forms on the skin. An Actinic Keratosis forms when the skin is damaged by ultraviolet (UV) rays either from the sun or tanning beds. UV radiation damages the DNA in our skin cells. Over time, the damage accumulates. Actinic Keratoses are precancerous, which means there is a likelihood they will become cancerous. Actinic Keratosis can turn into a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Sometimes it can take 20-30 years for this DNA damage to develop into a skin cancer. This isn’t always the case, so it is best to treat these lesions early. Some people who get Actinic Keratosis may not have any symptoms, but others will feel a rough patch on the skin or an area that feels painful when rubbed. Actinic Keratosis can appear on the skin, remain for months and then flake off. Most people get more than one Actinic Keratosis and will continue to get new Actinic Keratoses for life. They often re-appear when the person has unprotected sun exposure.

There are many treatments for Actinic Keratosis.


Cryotherapy is the most common treatment used to treat precancers. This destroys visible Actinic Keratoses by freezing them. The skin often blisters and peels off. Once healed, you may see a small white area.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

A medication known as Levulan is applied to the skin and gets absorbed by the precancerous cells. After a few hours, the treated skin is exposed to a blue light. This blue light activates the Levulan and destroys the Actinic Keratosis. The skin will be very red for 5-7 days. It is very important to avoid any sun exposure for 48 hours after this procedure.

Chemical Peel

A medical grade chemical peel called Trichloroacetic Acid(TCA) is applied which destroys the tops layers of skin. After treatment the skin will be very red and peel. Healing takes about ten days.

Topical Chemotherapy Cream

These topical creams work by either directly killing the precancerous cells or stimulating your own immune system to act and destroy the Actinic Keratosis. All cause redness, crusting, oozing and irritation to the area being treated.


With curettage, the visible Actinic Keratosis is removed with a curette to scrape the top layer of the skin. This may be used to treat thicker lesions.

The best treatment for Actinic Keratosis is prevention. You can prevent Actinic Keratosis by protecting your skin from the sun. Wear sunscreen with Broad Spectrum UVA/UVB coverage every day. You should also wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses. See your dermatologist annually for a full skin examination or anytime you notice a spot that you are uncertain of.

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