Actinic keratosis is also known as solar keratosis. It is a rough scaly growth that is caused by damage from prolonged exposure to the sun or ultraviolet radiation. Normally it does not occur on one part hence mostly referred in its plural form. They are not considered to be serious mostly but it is important to visit a doctor when they appear because they can later develop into skin cancer. Actinic keratosis mostly appear on areas that are exposed to the sun; face, ears, lips, shoulders, bald scalp, back of the hands, forearms and legs. They first appear as small spots on the skin then develop into bigger patches slowly over years. Most patches appear red while others are light or dark, white, pink or flesh colored.
Actinic keratosis is caused by ultraviolet rays. Most people get exposed to the ultraviolet ray from being under the sun for long during the day while others get exposed from using tanning beds.
The Ultraviolet rays destroy the skin. Young skin is able to restore and repair some of the damage but frequent damage may cause actinic keratosis. When the damages accumulate over time, the body gets weak and is not able to repair the skin. Small spots start to appear, on the skin exposed to the ultraviolet rays, which develop to form patches that characterize actinic keratosis.
Actinic keratosis can also be caused by ultraviolet radiation from lamps in a tanning salon. Dermatologists warn that these radiations are more dangerous than the sun and therefore warn against indoor tanning. People who practice tanning more often raise their chances of developing actinic keratosis.
In rare cases, actinic keratosis can be caused by frequent exposure to X-rays. Some industrial chemicals may also be a cause for actinic keratosis.
It is difficult to distinguish actinic keratosis that is not cancerous from cancerous spots. Therefore, it is important to seek medical advice if there are changes on the skin, especially if the skin develops spot and lesion that persist, continue to grow or are bleeding. Symptoms caused by actinic keratosis include:
- Patches that are red, pink, brown or skin colored
- Sandpaper like patches on the skin that are rough and scaly
- Sore or itchy patches on the skin
- Flat or stick out patches from the skin that looks like warts
- Dry lips that develop a whitish scale on bottom lip
- Rough, reddish, raised bumps
Anyone is at a risk to develop actinic keratosis. But the list below shows people who are at a higher risk of developing actinic keratosis.
- People who are older, mostly older than 40 years
- People who expose themselves to frequent or intense sun rays
- People who live in sunny climatic regions
- People who have red or blond hair
- People with eyes that are blue, green, hazel or light-colored
- People who have an immune system that has been weakened by diseases such as leukemia and AIDS or by procedures such as chemotherapy and medications from organ transplant
- People who have a personal history of skin cancer or actinic keratosis
- People who tend to get sun burn when exposed to sunlight
It is important to visit a dermatologist early so as to diagnose the disease and administer treatment to prevent skin cancer. Diagnosis for actinic keratosis includes:
- Examining the skin by a dermatologist. If there are growths that are thick or look like skin cancer, the dermatologist can conduct further tests.
- Skin biopsy that involves extracting a small amount of skin so as to examine it. The skin is tested for skin diseases and skin conditions. The skin biopsy is helpful because it helps the dermatologist to rule out other problems and a certain presence of actinic keratosis.
The goal of treatment is to destroy the actinic keratosis. When treated early, skin cancer is prevented. There are many types of treatment; some are performed by the dermatologist in the office while others are used at home. Depending on the severity of the actinic keratosis, some patients get more than one treatments.
Treatments for actinic keratosis include:
- Cryotherapy. It is the most common treatment. It destroys visible actinic keratosis by freezing them. Blisters and peels off appear on the skin few weeks after treatment. Small white marks form on the skin when it heals.
- Chemical peel. This is a medical chemical peel that cannot be bought anywhere else for home use. It is a strong peel that destroys the top layers of the skin causing it to be inflamed and sore. However, new skin replaces it after a while.
- Curretage. This is a procedure done by a dermatologist to remove visible actinic keratosis using an instrument called curette. After Curretage, damaged tissues are removed through electro surgery. Electro surgery burns the skin and new healthier skin appears after some time.
- Photodynamic therapy. This is a procedure that involves applying a solution on the skin to make it more sensitive to light. The skin is then exposed to blue or laser light. The visible light activates the solution and destroys the actinic keratosis. New healthier skin appears as the skin heals.
- Laser resurfacing. This treatment is almost similar to chemical peel. A laser in this case is used to remove the surface layer of the skin which destroys the actinic keratosis cells. The skin becomes raw and sore after treatment but within one or two weeks, new healthier skin appears.
- Demabrasion. This is a procedure that uses a handheld device to scrap the skin. It can be used to treat large lesions. The procedure can be painful because it leaves the skin red and raw. However, few weeks after treatment, healthier skin develops.
- Medications can also be used to treat actinic keratosis. Prescribed products are applied on the skin. They include ingenol mebutate gel, diclofenac gel and imiquimod cream among others.
It is important to have the skin checked after treatment once in a year to ensure actinic keratosis does not reappear.
Prevention of actinic keratosis is very important because, actinic keratosis can cause a type of skin cancer called, squamous cell carcinoma. The following are precaution measures against actinic keratosis:
Limit your time in the sun especially the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Also avoid staying in the sun for too long until you get a suntan or sunburn. This reduces the chances of skin damage that causes actinic keratosis or skin cancer.
Use sunscreen daily to reduce the development of actinic keratosis. Apply broad spectrum sunscreen before spending time outdoors. Dermatologists recommend water resistant sunscreen with a broad spectrum. Sunscreen should be applied on all skin that is exposed to the sun. Protect the lips also by using lip balm that contains sunscreen.
For extra protection against the sun, cover up your arms and legs with tightly woven clothing. During outdoors activity, consider wearing special designed clothing that protects the skin from sun rays and a broad-brimmed hat to protect the face.
Ultraviolet exposure from a tanning bed can cause actinic keratosis also. Avoid tanning beds. They produce as much ultraviolet radiation as the sun. Radiations from a tanning bed are absorbed in a short time, accelerating the process of developing actinic keratosis or skin cancer.
Examine the skin regularly to observe if there are any changes. Development of new skin growths, birthmarks or bumps should be reported to a doctor immediately. Check on areas that are susceptible to actinic keratosis such as face, neck, ears, lips, scalp, hands and arms.
There are a few home remedies for actinic keratosis:
Water not only keeps you hydrated but it also flushes out toxins in the body system. This keeps the body running and prevents harmful toxins from damaging the skin. Eight glasses of water are recommended daily for an individual.
A healthy diet is the key to keep the body in good health. It also prevents conditions such as actinic keratosis and skin cancer. A healthy diet should have lots of fruits, veggies whole grains lean proteins and food rich in fatty acids.
3. Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a cure to many illnesses especially of the skin. If you have already developed actinic keratosis, dab a bit of the apple cider vinegar on the affected area and cover with a waterproof bandage overnight. The acid in the apple cider vinegar will help to remove the affected skin within a few days.