What Is Keratosis? A General Guide To The Different Forms

By Sonia Gulati. May 7th 2016

Keratosis refers to a group of skin disorders that are caused by abnormal growth of keratin, which is a key structural protein found in the skin, hair and nails. The severity of symptoms and treatment regimen can vary according to the type of keratosis. There are three common types of keratosis, which include actinic keratosis, seborrheic keratosis and keratosis pilaris. Below is a brief description of each type of keratosis.

Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis (also known as solar keratosis) is characterized by the progressive appearance of a rough and scaly patch of skin that develops from years of exposure to the sun. It is most commonly found on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun, such as the face, back of the hands, forearms, scalp, or neck. Symptoms of actinic keratosis include:

  • A dry or rough patch of skin (usually less than one inch in diameter)
  • A flat to slightly raised patch of skin
  • A wart-like patch on your skin
  • Discoloration. The affected skin color can range from pink to red to brown
  • Itching or burning in the affected area

Actinic keratosis is often diagnosed by a physical exam. Your doctor may order a biopsy to in order to confirm the diagnosis. Actinic keratosis may be precancerous and therefore is most commonly treated by removing growth. There are numerous methods by which the patch or lesion can be removed, including cryotherapy, curettage, laser therapy, or chemical peels. With most of these procedures, the treated area takes a few days to several weeks to heal. Prevention of actinic keratosis is key as this type of keratosis is considered to be precancerous or an early form of skin cancer. Protecting yourself from the sun is critical to help prevent the development and recurrence of lesions caused by an actinic keratosis.

Seborrheic Keratosis

Seborrheic keratosis is one of the most common types of noncancerous skin growths in adults over the age of forty. Seborrheic keratosis is characterized by a waxy and slightly elevated growth that occurs on the face, chest, shoulders, or back.

The exact cause of seborrheic keratosis is unknown. Symptoms of seborrheic keratosis may include:

  • Discoloration. Affected skin color may appear light tan, brown, or black.
  • A growth that is round or oval shape
  • A flat or slightly elevated growth with a scaly surface
  • Itchiness in the affected area

In most cases, a doctor can diagnose seborrheic keratosis by examining the afflicted area. However, in order to rule out skin cancer (sometimes a seborrheic keratosis may resemble a lesion caused by skin cancer) your doctor may remove the growth and examine the lesion under a microscope. In most cases seborrheic keratosis is noncancerous and does not require any medical intervention. However, you may choose to have the seborrheic keratosis removed. There are numerous methods by which the patch or lesion can be removed, including cryotherapy, curettage, laser therapy, or chemical peels. This type of growth is never deeply rooted, so removal is usually simple and does not leave a scar.

Keratosis Pilaris

Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition that is often inherited and is characterized by the appearance of rough and small acne-like bumps. These bumps are usually white and most commonly found on the arms, thighs and buttocks. Keratosis pilaris usually affects young children, although it may occur at any age. This type of keratosis does not cause any pain, is usually considered noncancerous, and does not have any long- term health implications. Symptoms of keratosis pilaris include:

  • Small or acne-like bumps
  • Red and inflamed areas of the skin
  • Dry and rough patches of skin
  • Itchiness

While the exact cause of keratosis pilaris is unknown, it has been suggested that an allergic reactions and overall dryness of the skin may contribute to its onset. Keratosis pilaris is associated with a number of conditions including, ichthyosis vulgaris, dry skin, seasonal allergies, rhinitis, asthma, eczema and atopic dermatitis. Keratosis pilaris is diagnosed based on a comprehensive physical exam, medical history, and an exam of the affected skin. There are no additional tests that can aid in the diagnosis of this type of keratosis. Furthermore, there is no established treatment for keratosis pilaris. However, in many cases keratosis pilaris resolves itself by the age of thirty.

Prescription medications and self-care measures improve the appearance of your skin by softening the keratin deposits in the skin. There is no universal treatment that improves keratosis pilaris and therefore the appropriate treatment regimen may vary from individual to individual.

In general, it is recommended to prevent excessive skin dryness by using mild soap-less cleansers. Furthermore it is key to frequent lubricate the skin in order to effectively manage keratosis pilaris. The best treatment results are often achieved by using a combination therapy that includes topical products and physical treatments like gentle exfoliation, professional manual extraction of whiteheads, facials, or microdermabrasion.


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