When was your last skin check?  SunDoctors recommends having an annual skin check and more frequent consultations if you’re over the age of 50.  No referral required.  Book online or call 13SKIN.

Actinic Keratosis 101: 7 Key Things to Know About this Skin Condition

SunDoctors icon

Actinic Keratosis, also known as solar keratosis or AKs, is an early sign of skin cancer. Actinic Keratosis is the product of prolonged sun exposure throughout time. AKs is not the result of a single case of bad sunburn; rather, it is produced by cumulative sun exposure.

Today, we'll look at the top 7 things you need to know about this skin condition in order to keep your skin safe.

1. Anyone can get Actinic Keratosis (AKs)

While everyone is at risk of contracting Actinic Keratosis, there are a few factors that will increase your risk of developing AKs:

  • Spending large amounts of time outdoors
  • Fair skin complexion
  • Weakened immune system
  • Elderly or aged skin

2. Actinic Keratosis is caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays

Actinic keratosis won't happen from a single bad sunburn but rather from repeated overexposure to uv rays. Areas exposed to visible light like your face, head and neck are at higher risk of developing the AKs, especially if you're constantly experiencing overexposure to UV light. AKs that appear on the upper or lower lip is called actinic cheilitis and will make you lips feel dry, scaly and start to crack.

How to limit UV exposure

  • Use a quality sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30+
  • Stay in the shade during sunny periods, especially midday in summer.
  • Wear clothes that cover your arms, legs, chest, scalp and back.
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses.
  • Avoid tanning beds and indoor tanning.
  • Don't underestimate cloudy days and still practice good Suncare practices.

3. Actinic Keratosis may look like other skin conditions

One of the key issues with actinic keratosis is it's easy to mistake for other skin conditions, both dangerous and harmless. AK creates a small, dry, scaly skin patches and can appear in a range of colours including red, dark or light tan, pink, or can not really have a colour at all. Because of this, AK is often easier to feel than see. It's also sometimes mistakenly thought to be escma by patients. Any abnormality with your skin should be checked by a doctor to give you peace of mind or catch any issues early.

Similarities & Differences to other skin conditions

There are a range of conditions that result from sun damage and ultraviolet uv exposure, many which share similar signs and symptoms. While the only way to know for sure is to get professional skin check, here are some tips to get an idea of what you may have.

Seborrheic keratosis


  • Scaly feel
  • Appears on shoulder, face, head, and back.


  • Non-cancerous and harmless and won't develop skin cancer
  • Most likely to appear in multiple skin growths.

Basal cell carcinoma


  • Can appear as a scaly, rough patch in sun exposed areas.
  • Result from repeated exposure to uv light, both sunlight and tanning beds
  • Better results when treated early.


  • Can also look like a pearly, waxy lump.
  • Sometimes appears as a lesion.
  • Is cancerous and needs to be treated as soon as possible.

Squamous cell carcinoma


  • Comes from sun damage to the skin cells.
  • Appears as rough, scaly, red area.


  • Can resemble an age spot, an open sore or a scar.

Age Spots


  • More common in older people
  • Often appear in body parts that get sun exposure
  • Should be checked by a professional to make sure it isn't skin cancer.


  • Harmless and are only removed for cosmetic reasons.
  • Tend to resemble a mole more than a rough patch.

4. Proper sun protection is the best way to prevent Actinic Keratosis

The risk of Actinic Keratosis can be reduced much in the same way as is the risk of skin cancer, which is by protecting your skin from the sun. The frequent application of sunscreen, the use of shade, hats and protective clothing are all important concerns in this regard.

Most importantly, it is important for people to be aware that AKs is not the same as sunburn. The issue can take a long time develop, and may not leave immediately obvious marks on the skin. Only by engaging in a thorough skin care regime can this risk be dealt with safely and effectively.

5. Effective treatment options are available

It is lucky that most people are able to treat their Actinic Keratoses before it transforms into far more dangerous squamous cell carinomas- a high-risk, life-threatening form of skin cancer. In most instances, treatment of AKs prior to this transformation is an effective means of preventing further health problems.

Approved treatment options include

The treatment for actinic keratosis will be prescribed by once the severity of the condition. Some of these can be applied during the initial office visit whereas others need to be booked in with a surgeon.

  • Cryosurgery: Your doctor will freeze it off using your liquid nitrogen and healthy tissue will grow in the treated area.
  • Chemical Peel: A chemical is applied to the top layer of the skin which will cause them to peel off. After treatment, new skin will grow, replacing the top layers, over the following few weeks.
  • Laser surgery: A laser used to vaperize and remove lesion.
  • Curettage and desiccation: Also commonly used for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, an instrument will be used to scrap away the affected area.
  • Electrocauterization: Uses heat from an electric current to remove affected tissue.
  • Photodynamic therapy: PDT is when a photosensitiser to the affected area
  • Topical Gel (Field Treatments): Doctors may also prescribe a topical gel to apply to your AKs. It can take three months for AKs to disappear after treatment ends.

Unapproved treatment options

While there are some great things on the internet, there are also some serious misinformation when it comes to medical treatment options. Skin cancer is a serious condition, and the earlier you catch it, the more treatable it is. Home remedies won't cure your skin cancer and will waste valuable time that could have been spent on an actual treatment.

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Vitamin D
  • Vaseline
  • Tea tree oil

6. Treat Actinic Keratosis early to prevent skin cancers

Left untreated, AKs can develop into Squamous cell carcinoma, an invasive form of skin cancer. Unfortunately, the transformation process of AKs to squamous cell carcinoma is not entirely known. What is known for certain is that having AKs gives you an increased risk of As a result, medical professionals recommend any individual experiencing AKs to treat the condition as soon as possible.

While self-checks are great for spotting potential signs and symptoms, only a professional skin check can accurately determine where a skin condition is harmless or something to worry about. Skin checks take between 15-30 minutes. You'll be asked to undress to your underwear so your doctors can examine your entire body. In most cases, nothing it found, and you get the gift of peace of mind. However, when the doctor does find something, it can literally be a life-saving discovery. So, if you have any skin damage, skin growths, lesions or moles you're unsure about, get them checked as soon as possible.

7. Actinic Keratosis on the head or neck may be more serious

Scaly patches or sun damaged skin on your head, ears, lips or neck need to be taken more seriously because skin cancer is statistically more likely to occur in these places. This is especially the case with basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. While it is not impossible for these issues to occur elsewhere, the fact that they come as a result of overexposure to uv light means sun exposed areas are statistically more likely to be areas of concern. If you have a concern about a skin patch, mark or mole anywhere on your body, you should have it looked at.

Book your next skin check with Sun Doctors today!

Female doctor checking man's ear for skin cancer

Catching AKs or potential skin cancer early is key to effective treatment and a full recovery. Regular skin checks are vital to maintaining skin health and catching any issues in the early stages. The friendly team at Sun Doctors are here to provide the best in care and treatment for you and your family. If you're worried about something on your skin, or it's been a while since your last check-up, why not book your next skin check today?

View More Posts By Category