Actinic keratosis: Who gets and causes

People who are most likely to get AKs have one or more of the following traits:

  • Fair skin.
  • Hair color is naturally blond or red.
  • Eyes are naturally blue, green, or hazel.
  • Skin freckles or burns when in the sun.
  • 40 years of age or older.
  • Weak immune system, which has many causes including:
    • Organ transplant: The medicine that prevents rejection weakens the immune system.
    • HIV/AIDS.
  • Have a medical condition that makes the skin very sensitive to UV rays, such as:
    • Albinism (albino).
    • Xeroderma pigmentosum.
  • Work with substances that contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), such as coal or tar. Roofers have a higher risk of getting AKs because they work with tar and spend their days outdoors.

AKs usually appear after age 40. People who live in places that get intense sunlight all year, such as Florida and Southern California, may get AKs earlier. AKs also often appear much earlier in people who use tanning beds and sun lamps.

What causes AKs?

Ultraviolet (UV) rays cause AKs. Most people get exposed to UV rays from being outside during the day or using tanning beds. 

You can prevent AKs by protecting your skin from the sun and never using tanning beds or sun lamps.

When UV rays hit our skin, the rays damage our skin. When we are young, the body can repair some of the damage. Over time, the damage accumulates, and the body is less able to repair itself. We eventually see UV-damaged skin. If UV rays continue to hit the skin, people get AKs.

Learn more about actinic keratosis:

References:

Bhatia ND. “Medical Management of Actinic Keratoses.” Focus session presented at the 2011 American Academy of Dermatology Summer Academy Meeting: New York City. Aug 2011.

Moy RL. “Clinical presentation of actinic keratoses and squamous cell carcinoma.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2000 Jan; 42: 8-10.

Odom R. “Managing actinic keratoses with retinoids.” J Am Acad Dermatol 1998 Aug; 39: S74-8.

Rigel DS, Cockerell CJ, Carucci J et al.“Actinic Keratosis, Basal Cell Carcinoma, and Squamous Cell Carcinoma.” In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Rapini RP, et al. editors. Dermatology, 2nd ed. Spain, Mosby Elsevier; 2008. p. 1645-6.

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