What is Solar Keratosis?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Solar keratosis is a patch of rough, scaly skin. It develops in response to sun exposure, and it can take years of sun exposure for the keratosis to appear. The skin abnormality is commonly seen on an area which gets a lot of sun exposure such as the face, lower arm, or scalp. Also known as actinic keratosis, solar keratosis can be a cause for concern and it should be evaluated by a dermatologist.

Sun exposure can cause areas of rough, bumpy skin.
Sun exposure can cause areas of rough, bumpy skin.

The skin usually becomes rough or scaly in a patch which can vary in size. Over time, it may develop scabbing or ulcerate. Sometimes horn-like growth appears. The skin is usually sensitive at the site of the solar keratosis, and may be irritated by clothing and contact. Solar keratosis is a precancerous lesion and there is a chance that it may develop into a skin cancer.

A dermatologist can often identify solar keratosis just with a physical examination, as can many primary care providers. There are a number of treatment options available. If the keratosis is small, a wait and see approach may be taken. It will be checked now and then to confirm that it is not changing, and the patient will also be examined for signs of solar keratosis on other areas of the body; the more areas involved, the higher the risk of skin cancer.

If the area of solar keratosis is large or is a cosmetic issue, it can be removed. Removal can often address cancer concerns and make people feel more comfortable, and there are several techniques which can be used to take off the growth. Removal can often be done in a doctor's office or clinic, and it is very quick. Treatment for solar keratosis can also involve laboratory examination of the removed area to confirm that no cancerous cells are present. If they are, or if there are signs of other problems, additional treatment may be needed.

Patients should not hesitate to consult a doctor about skin changes. Skin damage occurs over an extended period of time, and by the time the damage is noticeable, much of the damage has already been done. Fair skinned people in particular should take steps to reduce the risk of skin damage by limiting sun exposure with the use of protective clothing, sunscreen, parasols, and so forth. Failure to protect the skin from the start can lead to serious health problems later in life.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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