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What is solar keratosis (actinic keratosis)?

What is solar keratosis (actinic keratosis)?

What is solar keratosis (actinic keratosis)?

Solar keratosis, also known as actinic keratosis, is one of the most common forms of skin lesions in the world, and as it is caused by exposure to the sun, it’s no surprise that Australia has the highest number of cases of any country.

Solar keratosis is a type of pre-cancer which, if left untreated, could develop into a type of skin cancer.

What is solar keratosis (actinic keratosis)?

Solar keratosis is a very common skin lesion, caused by exposure to the sun and UV radiation.

Symptoms can include small patches of rough, dry or scaly skin, flat or slightly raised patches or bumps, which can vary in colour from pale pink to brown, or result in slight itching, bleeding or crusting.

Usually, the first sign of actinic keratosis is the appearance of new bumps or patches on the hands or neck, or other areas that have had high exposure to the sun.

What increases the risk of solar keratosis?

Exposure to the sun and UV radiation increases the risk of developing solar keratosis, but certain factors can also influence it.

People with fair skin and freckles, blonde or red hair are at heightened risk of actinic keratosis, and age can also play a role, occurring in 80 per cent of people who are 80 or older.

Lifestyle is also a contributing factor. People with a high-fat diet are at a higher risk of developing actinic keratosis, as are those who work outdoors or have had greater exposure to the sun. A compromised immune system that has a reduced ability to heal abnormal cells can also be a contributing factor.

What is solar keratosis (actinic keratosis)?

How to prevent solar keratosis

As solar keratosis is caused by exposure to the sun, the best way to prevent it is to protect yourself from its UV rays.

Avoid spending time in the sun when it is at its strongest, between 10am and 2pm, and never suntan.

Use broad spectrum sunscreen on every exposed area, regardless of how long you will be outside, and remember to reapply it. Cover up with a hat and shirt and seek shade when you can.

Never, ever use a tanning bed.

How can you treat solar keratosis?

Actinic keratosis can be treated in a number of ways depending on the severity and individual needs, including:


Cryotherapy involves freezing the lesion off with liquid nitrogen. After a cryotherapy treatment, the face normally heals within a week, while the rest of the body will heal in about 3 – 6 weeks.

Curettage and cautery

Curettage and cautery is when the lesion is scraped off the skin with a curette and the skin is then cauterised.

Photodynamic therapy

Photodynamic therapy uses light to destroy the abnormal cells and sometimes repeat treatments are required.

Topical creams

Topical creams called 5-fluorouracil cream and Imiquimod cream may be applied to the solar keratosis area regularly over a few weeks to kill the abnormal cells.

Surgical excision

Surgical excision is when the lesion is completely removed under local anaesthetic and the wound may need stitches.

Get an accurate diagnosis for solar keratosis

It’s not always easy to distinguish between non-cancerous spots and cancerous ones, so if you notice any changes to your skin, the best advice is to always seek medical advice from a qualified skin doctor.

A skin doctor will provide an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan to remove or treat the solar keratosis and prevent further ones developing.

Book your skin check at our skin cancer clinic today

We know that early detection of skin cancer saves lives. That’s why it’s so important to book an appointment for a skin check sooner rather than later.

At Bass Coast Skin Doctors, we offer full-body skin checks and state-of-the-art mole mapping, which includes solar keratosis (actinic keratosis). Our skin doctors have years of experience in treating skin and work to the highest industry standards to ensure treatments are safe and comfortable for patients.

Book a consultation online or phone (03) 5618 7007 to find out more.