Actinic keratosis is a common precancerous skin growth that is related to damage from exposure to ultraviolet light. These growths appear in areas of your body that have experienced long-term sun exposure or sunburns, typically on the face, scalp, lips, backs of the hands, and shoulders. Some actinic keratosis, if not treated, will develop into skin cancers (squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell carcinomas). Actinic keratoses appear as red, dry, crusty, and sometimes sensitive spots. Fair-skinned individuals have a higher incidence of actinic keratoses. Photo (light) damage to the skin has a cumulative effect and the number of actinic keratoses that develops increases over time on sun-damaged skin.
Your provider will base your treatment on the location and number of actinic keratoses you have. The most common treatment is liquid nitrogen, but if you have many precancerous lesions in a particular area, your provider may recommend a prescription cream. For areas of your face that are severely sun-damaged, your provider may suggest photodynamic therapy or PDT, a treatment that uses special drugs, called photosensitizing agents, along with light to kill cancer cells.