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Actinic keratosis

Created: 03.08.2023

Updated: 22.02.2024

Approved by: Dr James Denny, Consultant Dermatologist

Actinic keratosis (solar keratoses) appear as small patches on your skin with a rough surface. The colour is typically light red but sometimes they can be yellowish and sometimes darker. Most actinic keratosis occurs on the head, neck, upper arms or hands, often on fair skin and most often in the elderly.

If Actinic keratosis is suspected

If you suspect that you have developed an actinic keratosis, it is important to consult a GP or dermatologist and avoid unnecessary sun exposure until you have been examined.

They may recommend various treatments including creams (or gels/ointments). One of these contains a medicine called 5-Fluorouracil which gets rid of abnormal cells and promotes normal skin growth. Another treatment option is cryotherapy, where the doctor freezes the patches using liquid nitrogen.

If you have multiple, PDT (photodynamic therapy) treatment is also an option. This is a modified form of light therapy, where a chemical treatment is applied beforehand to make the skin light-sensitive. PDT is particularly beneficial in areas where you want to avoid scarring or loss of pigmentation. While the treatment can be relatively expensive, it is well suited for actinic keratoses on the face.

If there is any concern for more serious issues such as cancer, a quick skin sample (biopsy) can be sent to the laboratory for testing.


Treatment is usually very effective and this may cure the problem, but you will be vulnerable to relapse. This makes it important to stay away from the sun and be aware of if you get new spots.

Actinic keratosis and cancer

Actinic keratosis can develop into squamous cell carcinoma, but it is rare. If you protect yourself from the sun in the places where you have received actinic keratosis, around 25% of the early lesions can disappear on their own.

The probability of at least one Actinic keratosis patch transforming is approximately 10% in 10 years. The chance of developing cancer depends on how many patches you have and how long you have had them. If you have several patches with actinic keratosis, treatment is recommended.

Actinic keratosis is more common in people over 50 years old but can appear earlier in those who work outdoors or have increased sun exposure.

Most cases are generally harmless. There is a very small risk that an actinic keratosis could progress into a form of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Patients affected by actinic keratoses are more at risk of all types of skin cancer compared to someone of the same age without actinic keratoses. Those who have multiple actinic keratoses and people with a weakened immune system (immunosuppressed) are most at risk of developing skin cancer.

How Dr. Dropin can help you

At Dr.Dropin, you can visit an experienced GP or see a Dermatologist who can diagnose and treat skin disorders. Dr.Dropin is committed to providing excellent Dermatology services with short waiting times.


How Dr. Dropin can help you

At Dr.Dropin, you can visit experienced dermatologists who can diagnose and treat all skin disorders. Dr.Dropin is committed to providing excellent dermatology services at a fixed and predictable price, with short waiting times.

General Practitioner

At Dr.Dropin our experienced GPs provide a wide range of primary care services, similar to those provided by the NHS, either in the clinic or through video consultations.


At Dr.Dropin, you will receive specialist care from our expert Consultant Dermatologists provided by skindoc. With extensive experience from both public and private hospitals, we can assess and treat most chronic and acute skin disorders – either in the clinic, through video, or via a photo upload service.