Actinic Keratosis

Actinic Keratosis

Honolulu cosmetic and medical dermatologist Dr. Kory Kitagawa is the head of Kitagawa Dermatology in Honolulu. He and his staff provide astute diagnoses and cutting edge treatment options for a variety of dermatological issues, including actinic keratosis, or AK, a skin condition caused by sun exposure. If you have questions about how to treat or manage your condition, contact Kitagawa Dermatology today for a consultation.

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The Effects of Sun Damage on Your Skin

Prolonged or frequent overexposure to the sun damages your skin and can result in scaly, crusty lesions anywhere that the sun frequently hits, such as your face, ears, scalp, forearms, hands, neck, and shoulders. One of these lesions is known as actinic keratosis, or solar keratosis (actinic refers to “light”). However, since it’s rare that only one lesion appears, the multiple lesions are usually referred to as actinic keratoses.

At first, the lesions are more often felt than seen, characterized by a dry, sandpaper-like consistency. The keratoses grow slowly until a maximum of a quarter inch in diameter. In the early stages, the lesions are known to come and go without warning, and they may itch or be tender. Color varies from red or pink to light or dark tan and sometimes even flesh colored. Inflammation is common, though bleeding is not.

Symptoms of Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis isn’t always consistent. In some patients, it appears and then disappears quickly. Or it remains for weeks or months before vanishing. A common trigger for reappearance could be, for example, venturing out into the sun without protection.

Those who get AK flare-ups often don’t have noticeable symptoms. In fact, the majority never has symptoms; they just experience slight changes to their skin.

However, actinic keratosis symptoms do occur, so be on the lookout for the following:

  • Patches of unseen rough-feeling skin
  • Patches of painful rough skin
  • Itching or burning
  • Continually dry lips

If your crusty lesions have vanished but not reappeared yet, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re in the clear. If the top layer of your skin is damaged, and you’ve developed actinic keratosis, it’s very likely that the damage has gone deeper. So, the disappearance from your skin surface doesn’t mean it’s over.

Contact Kitagawa Dermatology to discuss your situation because deep damage can lead to skin cancer if it’s untreated.

Causes of Actinic Keratosis

It’s pretty simple – prolonged or chronic exposure to the sun is responsible for nearly all cases of actinic keratosis.

Because damage to your skin from the sun accumulates over your lifetime, any exposure to the sun’s UV rays can trigger a flare-up – and keep in mind that, since roughly 75% of all UV rays penetrate clouds, even a cloudy day isn’t good for you. Sun reflections or glare off snow, water, sand, and more simply adds to it. The UV rays from the lamps on indoor tanning equipment are also a major culprit, so avoid indoor tanning salons as much as you can.

Read more about actinic keratosis at

AK is Preventable

Since your skin accrues damage from the sun yearly, it’s no surprise that many people over the age of 50 are especially susceptible. Nonetheless, prevention is simple – protect yourself from the ravages of the sun.

Some common ways to protect yourself are as follows:

  • Between 10a.m. and 3 p.m., avoid the sun
  • Do not sunburn – keep track of your time in the sun and get shade or indoor relief before you burn
  • Avoid UV tanning beds
  • Wear sun-protective shirts and pants
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat
  • Apply SPF 15 (minimum) UVA/UVB sunscreen for temporary forays into the sun
  • Use SPF 30 (minimum) UVA/UVB sunscreen for prolonged activity outside
  • Check the skin over your entire body once a month
  • See Dr. Kitagawa and his staff yearly for professional skin exams

Treatment for Actinic Keratosis

Left unattended, AK can develop into any type of skin cancer, although this is not the normal course in 90% of cases. Although only a tenth of all cases become squamous cell carcinoma, it is thought that nearly half of all squamous cell carcinomas start out as untreated AK.

Fortunately, nearly all cases can be taken care of if caught early. Some skin cancer treatments must be done at the Honolulu offices of Kitagawa Dermatology, while others can be done at home. Though no single treatment treats all the various forms of actinic keratosis, don’t worry, there are many types of effective treatments, and researchers are continually developing more.

A quick look at actinic keratosis treatments, some of which can be used in combination with others, is as follows:

In-Office Actinic Keratosis Treatment Procedures:

  • Cryotherapy, the most common actinic keratosis treatment, uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy the lesions
  • Medical chemical peel, meaning this must be done by a board-certified physician, not in a salon from an aesthetician or at home using a DIY kit, this removes the damaged top layer of your skin
  • Curettage uses a curette to shave a visible lesion from your skin, followed by electrosurgery to remove remaining damaged tissue(s)
  • Laser resurfacing removes the surface layer of your skin to destroy lesions

Prescription Medicines for At-Home Actinic Keratosis Treatment:

You might be prescribed medicine or medicine(s) that can be applied at home to treat AKs, including 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) cream, Diclofenac sodium gel, and Imiquimod cream.

Schedule a Consultation with Kitagawa Dermatology

To learn more about actinic keratosis and which actinic keratosis treatment options suit you, contact Dr. Kitagawa and his staff in Honolulu for a customized consultation.

AK can be easily treated, yet it can also lead to serious health issues if you don’t have it looked at. Call 808.533.4434 or contact us online today if you suspect you have this or any other skin condition.

Next, read about Eczema.