Actinic or solar keratosis is a condition which affects the skin caused by years of sun exposure. It results in rough scaly patches forming on susceptible areas, in particular the head and face.
- Results from prolonged sun exposure
- Causes scaly, rough lesions
- Treated with short-term topical gel
Solar keratosis also known as actinic keratosis (AK) is a condition causing the formation of rough dry patches on the skin. The size and appearance can vary greatly from being as small as a pinhead up to being 3cm across. They can look light, dark, pink, red or skin-coloured. Sometimes the top can form a white or yellow crust or scab. The area can be raised, feel hard to touch or wart-like and the surrounding skin may look slightly redder than usual.
There are certain parts of the body where this condition is more likely to form such as the face, neck, ears, scalp and backs of the hands and forearms. Those who sunbathe may develop it on the chest, back and legs. Although they can be itchy, tender and unsightly the majority of people affected will not experience any symptoms.
Actinic keratosis is the most commonly diagnosed skin condition caused by sun damage in the UK. It is thought that over 20% of the population aged over 60 have actinic keratosis, with men being affected more than women. Lesions are uncommon in those under the age of 45 but there are genetic factors making those with fair skin, blue eyes and blonde or red hair more susceptible. Medical treatment is usually advised, as there is a small chance that the condition can transform into a type of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
Solar keratosis occurs as a consequence of long-term overexposure to the sun. Over time UV radiation given off by the sun damages the skin’s normal repair system, changing the genetic makeup of the epidermal layer. The change means that the body repairs the skin with abnormal or atypical cells, producing a hardened or scaly area.
Some instances of actinic keratosis can get better on their own but it is likely that they will return or develop in other areas. It is advisable that once diagnosed you should reduce your direct exposure to the sun. This can involve wearing a sunscreen of SPF 15 or above; covering the skin on your head with a hat; and avoiding the sun when it is at its strongest between 11am and 3pm.
Picato gel has been developed by pharmacy manufacturer Leo to combat this skin condition. It uses the active ingredient ingenol mebutate which when applied to solar keratosis stimulates the skin’s immune system to attack the abnormal cells, leaving behind healthy skin. The topical gel is applied once a day for two or three days depending on the location of the damage. Results are usually seen within four weeks from commencing treatment.
Solaraze is another treatment for actinic or solar keratosis. This gel contains a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent called diclofenac, and works by limiting inflammation and swelling at the site of symptoms.
Please note that we do not offer these medications through our site. Consult your GP if you want to find out more about keratosis treatments.
Types of Treatment
Solar keratosis form on the skin after years of exposure to the sun. Once a patch has formed it can sometimes be reduced in size, or resolve on its own by protecting the skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays. This can be achieved by applying a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 (SPF 15); wearing clothes that cover your skin including a hat; and avoiding direct sunlight when it’s strongest (between 11am and 3pm). It is also thought that regular use of emollients can help. Treating the patches can make them go away but there is a high possibility that further patches may form over time, requiring further treatment.
Treatment is available for actinic keratosis in the form of a topically applied gel, such as Picato gel manufactured by Leo, and Solaraze manufactured by Almirall.
How do they work?
Picato contains the active ingredient ingenol mebutate which a purified extract from the euphorbia peplus plant, also known as milkweed. Once applied, the gel stimulates a reaction from the skin’s immune system prompting it to to attack and kill the abnormal cells. The skin heals, leaving healthy cells in place of the lesion.
Solaraze contains diclofenac, which is an anti-inflammatory drug. This helps to reduce redness and swelling in the affected region.
What are the side effects?
Most medicines have the potential to cause unwanted side effects. Please make yourself familiar with the information leaflet enclosed with the product. The most common side effects related to Picato include swelling, blisters, peeling, scabs, redness, itching and irritation; whereas side effects associated with Solaraze include dry skin and pins and needles.
You should seek immediate medical attention if you notice any complications developing.
Can I take them with other medications?
It is important that you disclose any medications that you are currently taking or have recently taken during consultation with your doctor.
What’s the difference between the medications?
Picato is a branded gel which uses the active ingredient ingenol mebutate. It effectively treats actinic keratosis.
Should I take Picato?
It depends what treatment you have used before, and whether it was successful. If you’ve never used treatment before or seen a doctor about keratosis, your GP will determine which treatment is the most appropriate during a face-to-face consultation.
Are there different side effects?
Yes. Detailed information on the potential side effects can be found in the supplied patient leaflet. Side effects related to Picato include swelling, blisters, peeling, scabs, redness, itching and irritation; whereas Solaraze has been associated with pins and needles and dry skin. Please refer to the respective product leaflets to read further information.
Is it right for me?
Your doctor will help you find out. They will assess your symptoms and determine which treatment is the most suitable for you, and initiate a prescription if needed.
Please note that we do not offer keratosis treatments through our site.
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