Actinic keratoses (solar keratoses)

Actinic keratoses (also called solar keratoses) are dry scaly patches of skin that have been damaged by the sun.

The patches are not usually serious. But there's a small chance they could become skin cancer, so it's important to avoid further damage to your skin.

Check if you have actinic keratoses

The patches:

The patches usually appear on areas of your body that are often exposed to the sun, such as your face, hands and arms, ears, scalp and legs.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if

  • this is the first time you have noticed patches on your skin
  • the patches begin to bleed, get bigger, change colour, feel tender or develop into a lump

    It's important to get these skin changes checked, in case they could be caused by something more serious, such as skin cancer.

Treatment for actinic keratoses

If you only have 1 skin patch, a GP might suggest waiting to see if the patch goes away by itself.

If you have more than 1 patch, or a patch is causing you problems such as pain and itchiness, treatment is usually recommended. A GP may refer you to a skin specialist (dermatologist).

Treatments for actinic keratoses include:

Things you can do to help

If you have actinic keratoses it's important to avoid any further sun damage. This will stop you getting more skin patches and will lower your chance of getting skin cancer.


  • use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 before going out into the sun and reapply regularly

  • wear a hat and clothing that fully covers your legs and arms when you're out in the sunlight


  • do not use sunlamps or sunbeds as these can also cause skin damage

  • do not go into the sun between 11am and 3pm – this is when the sun is at its strongest


Consider taking 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day if you always cover up outdoors. This is because you may not get enough vitamin D from sunlight.

Page last reviewed: 8 June 2020
Next review due: 8 June 2023