Actinic keratoses are precancerous changes to the top layer of skin (the epidermis). They develop after years of sun exposure to unprotected skin. The sun’s ultraviolet or UV rays cause damage to the skin’s DNA that accumulates and eventually the keratinocytes (the cells which make up your top layer of skin) do not mature properly. This results in a sand papery or scaly texture to the skin that recurs each time it falls off or is removed. They typically look like pink dry spots and can have a tender or burning sensation when touched. A small percentage of AK’s can go on to form skin cancers. For this reason dermatologists treat and remove them with several techniques including liquid nitrogen, topical chemotherapy creams and lasers. All of these treatments while effective, can be painful and leave the skin red and raw while it is healing.
AK’s develop on skin that is chronically exposed to the sun including the scalp (when hair has been thinning x years), face, neck and the hands and forearms. The BEST way to avoid getting these precancerous growths is to protect your skin from the sun. Broad spectrum sunscreens (containing zinc or avobenzone) and more importantly shirts with hoods or hats worn regularly will help to prevent the development or recurrence of these precancerous growths.