Importance of Watching Your Skin for Changes

Actinic Keratosis On Bald Heads: How Dermatologists Can Help

Protecting your skin from the sun is vitally important. Excessive sun damage can cause a wide range of problems, from premature aging to skin cancer. However, if you have little or no hair on your scalp, you may be neglecting the vulnerable, exposed skin on your head.

Actinic keratosis is a common consequence of too much exposure to UV sunlight and can appear almost anywhere on your body, including the top of your bald head. These patches of damaged skin can develop into more serious skin problems, including skin cancer, and must be professionally treated by a dermatologist as soon as possible.

What Is Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic keratoses are small areas of skin that have suffered severe DNA damage, caused by prolonged exposure to the ultraviolet rays present in sunlight. They are dry, scaly, scabby lesions, that are usually pinker or browner than the surrounding skin. They can be flat, or raised above the surface of the skin, but keratoses that appear on the scalp are usually flat. They can also cause itching or soreness.

Actinic keratoses are not malignant, but they are considered to be pre-cancerous. In a small percentage of cases, they can develop into serious, life-threatening skin cancers, such as squamous cell carcinoma. The longer a keratosis lesion goes untreated, the more likely it is to develop into a more serious illness.

Why Are Bald People More Vulnerable To Actinic Keratosis?

The top of your head is more exposed to sunlight than any other part of your body. A thick head of hair provides an effective barrier against sun damage, but hairless heads are almost completely exposed to intense sunlight. In people with little or no hair, the top of the head is the most likely area to develop actinic keratoses.

Because actinic keratoses are caused by cumulative skin damage over time, they are more likely to develop later in life, after years of accumulated exposure. Older men who have lost some or most of their hair to male pattern baldness are especially likely to develop keratoses on their heads. Younger bald people are still at risk, however, especially if they have fair skin.

The risk of keratoses is also higher if your baldness is caused by medications that suppress your immune system, such as steroids or chemotherapy. A weakened immune system is less able to repair sun damage and can allow for a rapid development of large keratoses.

What Should You Do If You Find Actinic Keratosis On Your Bald Head?

Bald people should take special care to protect their scalps from sun damage and must apply a high-SPF sunscreen to their scalps whenever they will be exposed to sunlight. Wearing sunscreen every day is highly recommended, even if you stay indoors. You should also inspect your scalp regularly to check for signs of sun damage; use a pair of mirrors or your phone camera to get a better view.

If you find any scaly, damaged patches of skin on your scalp, visit a dermatologist as soon as possible to have your scalp examined. If your dermatologist suspects actinic keratosis, they may take a small sample of your skin (a biopsy) to inspect it under a microscope.

If you are diagnosed with actinic keratosis on your scalp, your dermatologist can provide a range of treatments that will remove the damaged skin and prevent it from becoming cancerous. Small, isolated lesions are usually treated with liquid nitrogen, which instantly freezes and kills the pre-cancerous skin cells. 

If your keratosis is spread over a wider area, or you have several lesions on your scalp, your dermatologist may provide you with topical creams or ointments containing powerful anti-cancer drugs. Laser therapy to burn away damaged skin is also widely used and highly effective. In many cases, dermatologists will use a combination of these treatments.

In rare cases, actinic keratosis can return after treatment, and you are still vulnerable to future problems if you leave your scalp exposed and unprotected. You should therefore visit a local dermatologist for check-ups on a regular basis, and take steps to protect your scalp skin.