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10 Common Symptoms of Actinic Keratosis

Remember when your mom always doused you in sunscreen when you went outside in the sun or to the beach? Well, you should thank her. If she didn’t, then you may suffer from actinic keratosis, which causes rough, scaly patches of skin due to years of exposure to the sun (or tanning beds).

Actinic keratosis can last for years or your entire life. The patches can grow in time and usually occur on your face, ears, back of hands, scalp, neck, shoulders, and forearms – places commonly exposed. Unfortunately, this condition can turn into skin cancer, so it is safer to be aware of the symptoms and remove the patches.

Symptom 1: Dry, Scaly Skin

Do you have rough, dry, or scaly patches of skin? When you touch your skin, does it feel like you’re running your fingers over sandpaper? 

Typically, these patches occur as you get older and are known as age spots or sun spots.

Symptom 2: Hard, Wart-Like Surface

Do you have a hard, wart-like surface on your skin? Initially, these lesions are very small, basically invisible. You may not actually see the lesions until they grow.

They may disappear for a period of time, but only to reappear eventually.

Symptom 3: Itchiness

Are these rough and dry patches of skin itchy? Sometimes, they do itch or generate a prickly or tender sensation.

If you scratch them, you may cause them to bleed.

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Symptom 4: Multiple Colors

The actinic keratosis lesions are typically red, but some can be light/dark tan, white, pink, flesh-colored – or can be a combination of all these colors.

When they become red and inflamed, they may bleed.

Symptom 5: Lesions Grow

The lesions caused by actinic keratosis start out very small, but become bigger. They range in size from a tiny lesion to about an inch in diameter.

Typically, the lesions can grow from being about 2 millimeters to be a few centimeters in diameter.

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Symptom 6: Raised Patch or Bump

You may see a flat or raised patch or bump on the top layer of your skin.

They are slightly raised from the surface of your skin and usually easier to feel than see. They can also be hard.

Symptom 7: Number of Patches

It is common to have or find more than one patch of actinic keratosis lesions on your body in different locations.

However, they may look different depending on their location and stage.

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Symptom 8: Pain

You may experience pain when your rub the rough patch or growth.

Be aware that increasing thickness and pain are red flags that an actinic keratosis may be turning into cancer.

Symptom 9: Dry Lips

With actinic keratosis, your lips may feel dry all the time, which can be uncomfortable and annoying. When your lips are persistently irritated and the dryness just won't go away, consult a physician.

Also, lesions often occur on the lower lip and referred to as a “cracked lip.”

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Symptom 10: Burning/Stinging Sensation

Usually, actinic keratosis lesions are asymptomatic. However, you may experience a burning or stinging sensation.

The lesions may also be itchy, painful, prickly, or tingly.

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