Everything You Need to Know About Acanthosis Nigricans

What is acanthosis nigricans?

Acanthosis nigricans is a fairly common skin pigmentation disorder. Dark patches of skin with a thick, velvety texture characterize the condition. The affected areas of your skin may also itch or have an odor.

Acanthosis nigricans may be a sign of a more serious health problem, such as prediabetes. The most effective treatments focus on finding and resolving medical conditions at the root of the problem.

These skin patches tend to disappear after successfully treating the root condition.

Where does acanthosis nigricans appear?

These patches may appear on skin folds and other areas, such as the:

  • armpits
  • back of your neck
  • groin, particularly in creases and skin folds
  • elbows
  • face
  • knees
  • knuckles
  • lips
  • navel
  • palms
  • soles of the feet
  • underneath female breasts

Treating acanthosis nigricans

Acanthosis nigricans isn’t a disease. It’s a symptom of another condition like diabetes and an indicator that you may need to seek medical attention.

Treatment largely focuses on addressing the underlying condition that’s causing it. If you’re overweight, a healthcare professional may advise you to maintain a moderate weight. They may also prescribe medications to help control your blood glucose.

If the condition occurs due to medications or supplements, your doctor may suggest that you discontinue them or recommend substitutes. The discolored skin patches will usually fade when you find the cause and get it under control.

Cosmetic treatments

If you are concerned with the appearance of your affected skin, you may want to try cosmetic treatments available. Treatments include:

  • skin lighteners like Retin-A, 20 percent urea, alpha hydroxy acids, and salicylic acid
  • oral acne medications
  • laser therapy

These treatments can improve the appearance of acanthosis nigricans but will not cure the condition. Shop for antibacterial soaps here.

Pictures of acanthosis nigricans


Causes and risk factors

Acanthosis nigricans skin patches occur when epidermal skin cells begin to reproduce rapidly. This atypical skin cell growth is most commonly triggered by high levels of insulin in the blood.

In rare cases, the increase in skin cells may be caused by medications, cancer, or other medical conditions.

Too much insulin

The most frequent trigger for acanthosis nigricans is an excess of insulin in your bloodstream.

When you eat, your body converts carbohydrates into sugar molecules, such as glucose. Your cells use some of this glucose for energy, while your body stores the rest. The hormone insulin must allow glucose to enter cells so that the cells can use glucose for energy.

People with overweight tend to develop resistance to insulin over time. Although the pancreas makes insulin, the body can’t use it efficiently. This creates a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream, which can lead to high levels of both blood glucose and insulin in your bloodstream.

Excess insulin causes skin cells to reproduce at a rapid rate. For people with skin that has more pigment, these new cells have more melanin. This increase in melanin produces a patch of skin that’s darker than the skin surrounding it.

The presence of acanthosis nigricans is a strong predictor of future diabetes.


Certain medications can trigger acanthosis nigricans, such as:

  • injected supplementary insulin
  • nicotinic acid
  • birth control pills
  • diethylstilbestrol
  • human growth hormones
  • systemic glucocorticoids
  • thyroid medications
  • some bodybuilding supplements
  • protease inhibitors
  • estrogen

All of these medications can cause changes in insulin levels. The condition clears up when you stop taking the medications.

Everything You Need to Know About Acanthosis Nigricans

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