Actinic Keratosis Warning Signs and Images

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How to Spot an Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratoses typically occur on the face, lips, ears, bald scalp, shoulders, neck and back of the hands and forearms. Ranging in size from a tiny spot to as much as an inch in diameter, AKs usually appear as small crusty or scaly bumps or “horns.” The base can be dark or light skin-colored and may have additional colors such as tan, pink and red. Symptoms of actinic cheilitis, a variant of AK that appears on the lower lip, may include chapping, cracks and whitish discoloration.

Examples of typical actinic keratoses are shown here, so examine your skin regularly for lesions that look like them. But it’s not always that simple: Many actinic keratoses have quite a different appearance, so if you find any unusual or changing growth, be suspicious and see your doctor promptly.


  • Scattered thick, scaly, red patches on the back of the hand.

  • Multiple red bumps and tan crusts on the forehead and scalp.
  • Lower lip with protruding sore, white patches and cracks with dried blood, a possible mix of actinic cheilitis and skin cancer.

  • Crusted red spots on the cheek and ear.

  • Multiple red, silvery, white and scaly lesions on the back of a finger.

  • Concentrated area of actinic keratoses on the cheek.

Why You Should Be Concerned Causes and Risk Factors
Prevention Guidelines

Medical Reviewers:

Mark Lebwohl, MD
Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD