Sunspots on the Skin: Causes and Treatment

Actinic Keratosis

As we age, so does our skin. Have you noticed rough, scaly spots, popping up on your hands, arms, or face? It’s something that’s common with aging skin that’s had a lot of exposure to the sun over the years. These spots are called actinic keratosis, but you may know them as age spots or sunspots. Usually, these spots appear on people over the age of 40, but they’ve been known to show up on people much younger.

While most of these spots are just annoying and sometimes not very pretty to look at, some of them can also turn into cancer. A team of expert dermatologists can properly diagnose and treat your actinic keratosis.

What Causes Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic keratosis is a skin condition that is caused by too much exposure to sunlight. There are some people that are at a higher risk for this skin condition than others:

  • Those that are over the age of 60
  • People that have light-colored skin and blue eyes
  • Those that have a tendency to sunburn easily
  • People who have had a lot of sunburns early in life
  • If you’ve been frequently exposed to the sun over your lifetime
  • If you have the human papilloma virus, also known as HPV

How Can I Tell If I Have Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic keratoses start as thick, scaly, crusty skin patches. These spots are usually the size of a small pencil eraser. They usually show up on areas that are regularly exposed to the sun. So, it’s common to have actinic keratosis face spots, and spots on the lips, ears, hands, forearms, scalp, or neck. Sometimes the area that is affected will itch or burn.

Actinic keratosis is usually flat to a slightly raised patch of skin that can be any of these colors:

  • Brown
  • Tan
  • Gray
  • Pink

You should see a doctor immediately if any of the lesions start to harden, become inflamed, rapidly grow, bleed, become red, or appear in the form of an ulcer.

How is Actinic Keratosis Diagnosed?

The skincare experts at Winston Salem Dermatology will be able to diagnose your actinic keratosis by looking at it. They will thoroughly examine your actinic keratosis lip spots, face spots, or wherever the area may be. They may need to take a biopsy of the area if it looks suspicious.

Actinic Keratosis Treatment Options

Most often, early-stage actinic keratosis can be cleared up or removed before they develop into skin cancer. If left untreated, some of these spots may progress into a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer isn’t life-threatening if it is detected and treated early.

There are several different ways that these spots can be removed:


This involves cutting the lesion from the skin. Your doctor may have to remove extra tissue surrounding that area. Stitches may be needed depending on how big of an area is removed.


With this type of procedure, the area is burned off with an electric current. The affected skin cells will be killed when burned. Typically, there’s no need for stitches. The area should scab over and slowly drop off in about four to six weeks after the procedure.


This is a type of treatment where a solution, like liquid nitrogen, is sprayed on the area. This freezes the cells and kills them. The area will scab over and fall off just a few days after the procedure is done.

Topical Medical Therapy

A procedure isn’t required for this type of actinic keratosis treatment. A topical cream, gel, or solution will be prescribed. The topical treatments will destroy the cells. Some common topical medications are Carac, Efudex, Fluoroplex, Tolak, Aldara, Zyclara, and Picato.


This is a treatment that includes a topical solution and a laser. First, the solution is applied over the lesion and the affected skin area. Next, the area is exposed to an intense laser light that targets and kills the cells.

Treat Actinic Keratosis at Winston Salem Dermatology

Don’t let your actinic keratosis go untreated. Your skin is our passion. We are a team of experienced skincare experts who can diagnose and treat your sunspots. Winston Salem Dermatology is the triad’s preferred dermatology and cosmetic enhancement team for a reason! We know how to provide optimal skincare. Give us a call today at (336) 774-8636 and find out how we can treat your actinic keratosis.