Acanthosis Nigricans: When Dark Skin Turns To Be Alarming

People have the tendency to ignore simple or little changes in our bodies. Have you noticed darkening of the skin on the following areas such as neck, nape, armpit and groin? They may bother your appearance but this simple skin change can be a warning sign of a serious illness like diabetes or hormonal disorder. So, what is this skin condition and why should you be aware of this color changes in your skin?

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The skin condition manifested by dark, thick, velvety discoloration in body folds and creases is called acanthosis nigricans. These light brown to black markings are visible on your armpits, groin, neck as well as under the breasts. Acanthosis nigricans can begin at any age. This condition occurs in people who are obese or have diabetes. Children who develop such condition are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Skin changes, possible itch and slow progression are manifestations of acanthosis nigricans. Skin changes happen when you have acanthosis nigricans. Yes, you can notice skin darkening on certain areas but it appears slowly, sometimes over months or years. The affected area of the skin may experience itch or odor, but it rarely happens. It occurs to healthy individuals. However, this condition is mostly associated with obesity.

What causes this skin condition? Other factors that contribute to the cause of acanthosis nigricans include certain medical conditions described below.

Insulin resistance
Those who have acanthosis nigricans become resistant to insulin. Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas allows your body to process sugar. If you are insulin resistant, you are at high risk or have type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance happens when you eat too much of the wrong foods particularly starches and sugars. This will elevate your insulin levels. Most people with acanthosis nigricans have higher insulin level than those people of the same weight and do not have acanthosis nigricans. High levels of insulin causes acanthosis nigricans as this activates insulin receptors in the skin, forcing abnormal growth.

Hormonal disorders
This skin condition is caused by hormonal or endocrine disorders. Here are hormonal diseases that can cause acanthosis nigricans:

  • Pituitary gland disorders within the brain
  • Addison’s disease or a condition caused by hormone deficiencies from the adrenal gland
  • Growth hormone therapy
  • Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroids

Taking certain types of medication
Those who are taking oral contraceptives, high-dose niacin, prednisone and other corticosteroids are most likely to have acanthosis nigricans.

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Other diseases related to cancer
This skin condition also affects women with ovarian cysts or those with lymphoma, and cancerous tumor growing in internal organs.

The following risk factors of acanthosis nigricans includes:


  • If you get heavier for some time already, you are at the higher risk of acanthosis nigricans


  • People with African descent and Native Americans are affected with acanthosis nigricans.

Family History

  • Some types of acanthosis nigricans appear to be hereditary.

If you are diagnosed to have acanthosis nigricans, what are the treatment options given? There is no specific or particular treatment for this condition. You have to treat underlying conditions like obesity and diabetes to help lighten or return the color its original skin tone. If you want to improve the skin appearance affected by acanthosis nigricans, your doctor may prescribe cream or lotion to lighten the areas. These topical products mostly contain vitamin A or retinoids, alpha hydroxyl acids (AHA), urea, and salicylic acid. Dermabrasion or laser therapy may help alleviate thickness of certain affected areas. Talk to your doctor if you need to stop certain medication to cease acanthosis nigricans.

Prevention always matters. Lifestyle change is the best possible way to prevent this skin condition occurrence. You can start by doing weight management especially if you are overweight or obese. Including proper diet and nutrition, exercise and rest to your daily routine is important to get rid of the condition. Skip eating foods rich in sugar and starch so you can shed pounds off your weight. Avoid medications that can worsen acanthosis nigricans.

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