Understanding solar keratoses

Learn how to identify and prevent solar keratoses

Millions of people have solar keratoses. Do you?

Solar keratoses is very common disease in Australia. The prevalence of solar keratoses in Caucasian Australians over the age of 40 is 40-50%. Despite being such a common disease, many people have never heard of it. It is important to find out if you have solar keratoses, as left untreated, it may sometimes develop into non melanoma skin cancer which is treatable but can cause damage. 

What solar keratoses looks like

Usually, solar keratoses appear as small, sporadic red and white areas on the skin, which will often feel like sandpaper. The surface of the affected area can be rough and slightly sore and itchy. In the early stages, often the skin changes are easier to feel than to see, as they may not be clearly visible, while they later may become thick and scaly. Some solar keratoses can be as small as a pinhead, while others may be around the size of a small coin.

Where does it appear?

Solar keratoses usually occurs on the areas of the skin most exposed to sunlight, e.g., the scalp, the face, the backs of the hands and the arms. It is rare to find just one solar keratoses lesion, usually the surrounding area is also damaged as the sun's rays affect all skin and not just the exposed lesion. While solar keratoses can be uncomfortable and unsightly they are generally not dangerous.

However, solar keratoses lesions may develop into a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). As a result, solar keratoses lesions are generally treated, both for cosmetic and health reasons.

Solar Keratoses is considered a field disease, as most lesions appear in a field of UV damaged skin cells which surround the individual visible lesion. Invisible solar keratoses (found underneath the skin) are estimated to be 10 times more frequent than visible lesions.

What causes solar keratoses?

Solar keratoses is a kind of skin damage that is caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, typically from the sun or sunbeds.

Will solar keratoses become cancer? 

Solar keratoses may fade, stay the same, or develop. Specialists recommend that all cases of solar keratoses should be treated, as it has a risk of developing into non-melanoma skin cancer.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who has been exposed to UV radiation over time  can develop solar keratoses, though it is more common in people who are fair-skinned, over 40 years old, or people who have spent long periods  of time outdoors without protecting their. In recent years, however, the number of people with solar keratoses has increased worldwide and is now also increasing in people under 40 years of age.

Below you can find a list of people at higher risk of developing solar keratoses:  

• People who work outdoors such as gardeners, farmers, or construction workers.
• People with outdoor hobbies like sailing, golfing, or cycling.
• People who love sun bathing or often use a solarium.
• People who were sun burned often during childhood.
• People who have had an organ transplant.
• People with light skin types. 
• People who spend a lot of time in tropical areas.

Take our Solar Keratoses Risk Test to find out what your risk is of having or getting solar keratoses. 

Solar keratoses – a chronic and recurring disease

If you have already had visible solar keratoses lesions, you are likely to have non-visible solar keratoses under the skin surface; this is known as a ‘field’ of sun-induced damage. If untreated these hidden solar keratoses may develop into visible solar keratoses or directly into squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

Furthermore, if you have already had some solar keratoses lesions, your risk of developing solar keratoses in other sun-exposed skin areas is quite high. This is because these skin areas have also been exposed to similar amounts of sun over time. That is why solar keratoses is often called a chronic or recurring disease.

How can solar keratoses be prevented

As solar keratoses is linked to the sun’s UV radiation, avoiding exposure to sunlight, especially around midday, will reduce the risk and development of solar keratoses. When exposed to sun, protect the head, face and ears, and apply sunscreen with a high protection factor on a regular basis.

Sun damage may not be visible on your skin until many years after the initial damage occurred. As a result, it is important to get to know your own skin so you can learn to identify possible areas of sun damage and bring them to the attention of your doctor as early as possible.
Tell the signs of sun damaged skin

It can take years to develop solar keratoses. If left untreated solar keratoses may develop into non melanoma skin cancer. By checking your skin regularly you can detect any skin damage.

Click here for more information on how to check your skin.