Actinic keratoses (AKs) are rough, raised and sometimes scaly areas of skin that develop on sun-exposed areas of skin. They are usually found on the face, scalp, back of hands, chest and other areas of skin that have been exposed to the sun over a long period of time. They may be gray, pink, red or the same color as the skin and can be as small as a pinhead or larger than a quarter. AKs often have a white or yellow scale and can develop into hard, wart-or-horn-like lesions. While most AKs are not harmful, a small percentage of AKs go on to develop into squamous cell skin cancer, which is why it is important to have a dermatologist examine them promptly.
There are various options for treating actinic keratoses. They may be removed by freezing (cryotherapy), burning (electrical cautery), excision (cutting and stitching) or curettage and electrodessication (scraping and electricity to kill remaining cells). Additionally, if there are many AKs being treated there are also creams such as 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and imiquimod, chemical peels and photodynamic therapy.