Treating and preventing solar keratosis

Who should be treated?

Some small solar keratoses may go away spontaneously, so a few small lesions may not need to be treated. But it is important to protect the affected skin from the sun.

Experts recommend treating solar keratoses (other than those that are small) because there is a small risk that they may transform into a skin cancer3.  



How can solar keratosis be treated?

There are several different treatments for solar keratosis. Your doctor will discuss with you which treatment is suitable for you.

Treatment Different options How it works Pros Cons
Creams / gels Diclofenac, sodium hyaluronate,
The cream or gel is applied to the affected skin. They selectively destroy, or ‘turn off’ the changes driving growth of abnormal cells in sun-damaged skin3. Easy to use. Patients can apply themselves, at home. Treats the sun-damaged skin around the solar keratosis, which may reduce the risk of recurrence. Useful for treating an area of skin with several solar keratoses. Some creams and gels can cause dry skin, inflammation (redness) or itching3.
Freezing with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy)   Liquid nitrogen is applied to the solar keratosis. This disrupts and separates epidermal cells5. Effective when there are only a few, smallish solar keratoses. Lesions may go away without leaving a scar3. Can be painful. Occasionally, may leave a pale mark3. Less suitable for treating the surrounding skin, leading to a high recurrence rate6.
Photodynamic therapy   A chemical is applied to the affected skin, which is then activated with visible light, causing it to destroy the sun-damaged cells3,4.   This treatment is available only in certain centres3.
Surgical removal The solar keratosis can be scraped off with a sharp, spoon-like instrument (curettage) or is cut out and the resulting wound stitched3. Local anaesthetic is applied to the solar keratosis and the surrounding skin before the surgical procedure. The tissue removed can be analysed in the laboratory to confirm the diagnosis3. Pain, bleeding, scarring3,5.


Making the most of your treatment

If your doctor prescribes a treatment, it is important to use it as your doctor, and any patient information material, advises, to ensure that it works effectively.

Ask your doctor for advice on how to use your treatment properly, and read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine, if you are treated with a cream or gel.