Sometimes referred to as solar keratoses, actinic keratoses are the result of people with light skin suffering from extreme sun exposure. If these keratoses are not treated, they can develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. At Worcester Dermatology in Worcester, MA we understand that you can’t seek treatment for this skin concern if you can’t identify it. That’s why we’re discussing what keratosis looks like and everything else you need to know.
What Do Actinic Keratosis Look Like?
Actinic keratoses look like scaly patches. The color of these rough patches varies. Sometimes, they are tan, but they can also be dark pink or brown. Furthermore, these patches can be silvery or red. However, they are almost never skin-colored.
How Large Is an Actinic Keratosis?
Just like the color of actinic keratoses varies, the size of an actinic keratosis varies. It is possible for these keratoses to take up only a tiny spot on the skin. However, it is also possible that the patches are a full inch in diameter.
Where Do These Patches Develop?
Actinic keratoses develop in areas exposed to ultraviolet rays regularly. Therefore, they commonly appear on the face, forearms, and the backs of the hands. It is also not uncommon for these rough, scaly patches to develop on the ears, lips, shoulders, and neck. If rough, scaly patches or bumps develop on your lower lip, you may be suffering from a specific actinic keratosis variant known as actinic cheilitis.
What Are the Risk Factors of Developing This Condition?
Age is one of the most significant risk factors of developing actinic keratoses. If you are at least 50 years of age, your risk of developing this condition is high. Also, being Caucasian is a significant risk factor. Caucasians have less melanin in their skin, so their risk of sustaining significant UV damage is notably higher.
Note, while this condition usually results from sun exposure, it can also develop after repeated tanning bed use due to the UV rays used in tanning beds. Also, your risk of developing this condition is greater if you have a history of sunburn. This is because sunburn is your skin reacting to ultraviolet radiation.
How Can I Mitigate My Risk of Developing This Condition?
There are several lifestyle changes you can make to mitigate your risk of developing actinic keratoses. One of the most effective steps you can take is to stay out of direct sunlight when the sun’s UV rays are at their strongest. Generally, this occurs between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM. However, sometimes, the sun’s UV rays are particularly strong.
If you are Caucasian, over the age of 50, or have a history of sunburn, you may want to download an app on your phone that alerts you when the sun’s UV rays are particularly strong. If possible, avoid direct sunlight during this time. Another step you can take is to wear sunscreen every day. Even when it is overcast outside, the sun’s UV rays can still damage your skin. Moreover, cover up as much as possible when you go outside.
How Can This Condition Be Treated?
The most effective actinic keratosis treatment method for you depends on numerous factors, including the severity of your condition. For example, if your condition is caught in its early stages, you can use a fairly gentle topical medication, like Solareze gel or aldara cream, to stop these potentially cancerous growths in their tracks.
However, if your keratoses have been developing for quite a while, you may need a more powerful topical medication, like 5-FU, sometimes referred to as 5-fluorouracil. This topical medication is extremely effective and ideal if you have many keratoses that need to be treated. It can take anywhere from three to six weeks of consistent application for this drug to annihilate the skin cells damaged by ultraviolet radiation.
When Should I See a Dermatologist?
You should see a dermatologist when you suspect your skin has been poisoned by ultraviolet radiation. Remember, the color of keratoses can range from flesh-toned or pink to brown, red, and silver. It may be easier for you to notice the scaliness of these rough patches of damaged skin. Even if your skin doesn’t feel rough and dry, you should see a dermatologist if patches of your skin feel itchy, raw, inflamed, or prickly.
To reiterate, if keratoses go untreated for too long, they can develop into a common form of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. When diagnosed and treated early, this form of cancer has a five-year survival rate of 99%. However, applying a topical medication to patches of skin or getting damaged skin cells frozen off with liquid nitrogen is much easier than undergoing surgery and radiation therapy to eliminate cancer.
Contact Us Now
Actinic keratoses look like scaly patches that differ in color from healthy skin not damaged by the sun. If you suffer from this condition and don’t seek treatment, it is possible that you will develop a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. If you notice rough, scaly patches on your skin, contact us today at Worcester Dermatology in Worcester, MA to schedule your initial consultation.