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Actinic keratosis: Self-care

Having just one actinic keratosis (AK) means that your skin has been badly damaged by ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, tanning beds, or both. Once skin becomes this badly damaged, you have a greater risk of developing:

  • More actinic keratoses (AKs)

  • Skin cancer

The right self-care can reduce these risks and help you find skin cancer early when it’s highly treatable.

Here’s the self-care that dermatologists recommend for their patients who have AKs.

7 highly effective habits for people who’ve have (had) actinic keratosis

  1. Wear sunscreen every day. Studies have found that when patients slather on sunscreen every day, they have:

    • Fewer AKs
    • Less risk of an AK becoming skin cancer
    To get the protection you need, use sunscreen that offers the following:
    • Broad-spectrum protection
    • SPF 30 or higher
    • Water resistance
    You want to apply sunscreen to all skin that clothing will not cover while you’re outside, such as your face, ears, and hands.

    Even if you’re only going to be outside for a few minutes, be sure to apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outdoors.

    Every time we step outside during the day, the sun’s rays damage our skin. Spending just a few minutes a day outdoors allows this damage to build up, which can lead to more AKs and even skin cancer.

  2. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours. Once sunscreen is on your skin, it starts to break down. To stay protected, you need to apply it every 2 hours.

  3. Never try to tan. There’s no such thing as a safe way to tan. Lying in the sun, using a tanning bed, or sitting under a sun lamp will further damage your skin, increasing your risk of developing more AKs and skin cancer.

  4. Protect your skin with clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, long sleeves, and pants. Clothing gives you added protection because sunscreen cannot block 100% of the sun’s rays.

    Protecting your skin from the sun can help prevent new actinic keratosis from developing

    If you’ve had AKs, protecting your skin from the sun every day can prevent new AKs and skin cancer.

    Grandmother and granddaughter gardening
  5. Seek shade when outdoors. The less UV rays that hit your skin, the safer you will be.

  6. Make skin self-exams a habit. Checking your skin for signs of AKs and skin cancer as often as recommended by your dermatologist can be life-saving.

    If you’re unsure how to perform a skin self-exam or need a refresher, be sure to watch this video:


    Regularly checking your skin can help catch skin cancer early, when it’s highly treatable. Follow these tips from board-certified dermatologists to check your skin for signs of skin cancer.

  7. Keep all your dermatology appointments. During these appointments, your dermatologist will carefully check your skin for signs of AKs and skin cancer. Keeping every appointment helps to find skin cancer early when it’s highly treatable.

Getty Images

Duncan KO, Geisse JK, et al. “Epithelial precancerous lesions.” In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, et al. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine (seventh edition). McGraw Hill Medical, New York, 2008: 1007-15.

Rosen T, Lebwohl MG. “Prevalence and awareness of actinic keratosis: Barriers and opportunities.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2013;68:S2-9.