Actinic keratoses (AKs) are rough and scaly lesions that form on the surface of the skin. They are most commonly seen in fair skinned, older adults who have had a high amount of sun exposure throughout their lives. The lesions usually start out very small, but can enlarge over time. They vary in color from skin-tone to red.
Due to their rough texture, actinic keratoses can easily be detected by touch. Lesions typically occur on sun-exposed areas of skin, such as the face, back of the hands, and forearms, as well as on the lower legs in women. It is also seen on the scalp of bald men as well as on the ears and lips. When the lips are involved, the condition is termed actinic cheilitis.
Although first appearing in the ’30s, actinic lesions become increasingly common with age. It is estimated that 80% of those with fair skin over 70 years have actinic keratoses. It’s important to keep an eye on AKs because they can develop into invasive skin cancer over time. The presence of an AK can also be a marker for progression to skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma.