The term “keratosis” can be confusing for patients because, in addition to being a scientific term, it is used to designate three very different conditions. Dermatology Associates of Atlanta will take this opportunity to distinguish the different types of keratosis and give you information on how to treat them.
Actinic keratosis, also known as solar keratosis or “sun spots”, is a pre-cancerous condition of damaged skin that could eventually lead to a type of skin cancer known as sqaumous cell carcinoma. It is marked by thick, scaly patches of skin that can eventually grow to be bumpy, tough, and wart-like. Actinic keratosis is most common in fair skinned people and happens most frequently in sun-exposed areas of the body like the face, scalp, upper chest, back of the neck, back of the hands, and arms.
While it is not guaranteed that actinic keratosis will become cancerous, it is important to visit your dermatologist to learn about your treatment options. The most common treatment for this condition is cryosurgery, or the use of liquid nitrogen to “freeze” off the damaged skin lesions. Other treatment options include photodynamic therapy, which uses an injection of a photosynthesizer that, combined with the right kind of laser light, destroys damaged tissue. In some cases, dermatologists will use a topical medication to rid a patient of the actinic keratosis.
Keratosis Pilaris (aka Follicular Keratosis)
Keratosis Pilaris, also known as Follicular Keratosis, or more commonly, “chicken skin,” is a follicular, genetic skin condition. It is caused by the build-up of keratin in hair follicles and results in small, red, itchy, bumps. It is most commonly found on the back of the upper arms and on the upper thighs, however it can also be found on the hips, buttock, and cheeks and is more common in patients who have dry skin or eczema.
While Keratosis Pilaris is benign and often disappears with age, it is not curable, and can only be treated for symptoms. Dermatologists often recommend topical ointments and creams containing vitamin A, can prescribe eczema treatments to help with the itching, and encourage patients to stay moisturized with intensely moisturizing lotions.
Seborrheic Keratosis are benign skin growths, comically referred to as “barnacles” that appear on the skin’s surface. These growths can range widely in the way they look – from flat to elevated, from big to small, from light to dark – thus they are often mistaken for other skin conditions like warts, or more seriously melanoma. Because seborrheic keratosis has the potential to be confused with the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, you should get any suspicious growth checked by a board certified dermatologist.
Unlike most skin growths, Seborrheic Keratosis arises from the top layer of the dermis, often having the appearance of being “barely stuck on there” and can sometimes cause itching.
Seborrheic keratosis is benign, and it is thus not necessary to remove them – although some patients choose to remove them for cosmetic reasons or for relief from the itch. Like actinic keratosis, seborrheic keratosis is often removed using cryosurgery, or liquid nitrogen, or by shaving excision.