Why does solar keratosis occur?

Solar keratosis is caused by repeated exposure of the skin to sun (either from sunshine or sunbeds), which causes skin damage that accumulates over a lifetime, and is not due to recent sunbathing. As the damage builds up over time, this explains why solar keratosis is commoner in older people.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun causes skin cells to divide and grow abnormally, which changes the size, shape, structure and organisation of the skin cells affected. These changes can result in crusty, scaly bumps – which are solar keratoses.


Why treat solar keratosis?

Solar keratosis can sometimes develop into a form of skin cancer – squamous cell carcinoma – if left untreated. This type of skin cancer is not usually life threatening as long as it is detected and treated in the early stages. But if it is not treated it can spread to other tissues in the body and cause more serious problems.


When should you see your doctor?

If you have an area of rough skin that you think may be a solar keratosis, you should make an appointment to see your doctor to check it out.

It is particularly important to see your doctor if a solar keratosis starts to grow into a lump, becomes itchy or tender, or bleeds, because these changes could indicate the development of a skin cancer3.


How will your doctor diagnose a solar keratosis?

The appearance of a solar keratosis will generally be enough to enable your doctor to diagnosis the problem. But if there is any doubt – perhaps if your doctor suspects the lesion may be an early skin cancer – they may suggest that a small sample (or the whole lesion) is removed under a local anaesthetic, so that it can be examined in the laboratory3.

Please click here to view a short skin check video offering advice on sun damaged skin.