Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Actinic Keratoses: What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2007 Sep 1;76(5):672.

  See related article on actinic keratoses.

What are actinic keratoses?

Actinic keratoses (ak-TIN-ik ker-uh-TOH-sees) are rough, scaly patches on the skin. They are usually on areas of your body that get the most sun (for example, the head, neck, arms, and hands).

Who gets them?

People with fair skin who live where it is sunny or who work outside are most likely to get actinic keratoses. The patches are usually found on older people and are more common in men than in women.

How is it treated?

It is important to treat actinic keratoses, otherwise they can turn into skin cancer.

Your doctor may remove the patches by freezing or scraping them or by having you put a cream or gel on them.

Your skin may be red, sore, or swollen after treatment. This should go away after a few days.

How can I prevent actinic keratoses?

  • Avoid spending a long time in the sun or using a tanning bed.

  • Wear sunscreen when you are outside. The sunscreen should have a sun protection factor (or SPF) of 15 or higher. Look for “broad-spectrum” on the label.

  • Wear clothing that protects your skin from the sun (for example, a hat, a shirt with long sleeves, or long pants).

Where can I get more Information?

Your doctor

American College of Dermatology

Web site: (click on ActinicKeratosesNet)

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology

Web site: (click on Actinic Keratosis)

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2007 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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