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Acanthosis Nigricans – Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

acanthosis nigricans


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If you notice the skin around the neck and in your underarms becoming dark and obtaining a velvety texture, there are chances that you could be suffering from the skin condition known as Acanthosis nigricans. This disorder can ruin the appearance of your skin and make you feel embarrassed in social situations. While it might seem like a tough skin disorder to treat, it is something that can be dealt with. This article will throw light on what acanthosis nigricans is, its causes, symptoms, and dermatologically proven methods to treat it.

What Is Acanthosis Nigricans?

Acanthosis nigricans is one of those skin conditions that can make the skin in certain areas of the body look extremely dark and texturized. It is characterized by the presence of hyperpigmented skin in the body’s natural folds such as the neck, underarms, inside the elbow, behind the knees, navel, groin, etc. At times, the skin on the forehead and the face can also be affected by it.

The dermal papillae of the affected skin become enlarged, and the skin thickens unnaturally, thus acquiring a velvety texture. The benign form of this skin disorder is associated with obesity and diabetes.

Also Read: Get Effective Treatment For Skin Pigmentation

Important Facts About Acanthosis Nigricans

  1. Number Of Cases Reported In India – Acanthosis nigricans is seen in about 15-20% of the Indian population with people having diabetes having a high incidence rate of above 60% of acquiring this skin disorder. These numbers were reported by studies published in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice and BMJ journals.
  2. Is It Chronic Condition? – No, it is not a chronic skin condition as it can be resolved by treating the underlying cause and using appropriate cosmetic treatments to get rid of the physical symptoms.
  3. Who Are At A Risk Of Getting This Condition? – Seen in both men and women, people who fall into the following categories have higher chances of developing acanthosis nigricans – Having a high BMI (body mass index), Being obese or overweight, Having darker skin & Affected by diabetes or pre-diabetic conditions
  4. How Can A Dermatologist Help You? – A dermatologist, being a skin specialist, can help to identify the cause of the pigmentation and texture change in your skin. Suitable medical treatments can then be utilized to treat the cause internally, and cosmetic treatments can be used to improve the physical appearance of the skin.

What Causes Acanthosis Nigricans?

Acanthosis nigricans causes are not defined 100%, but the following influence the overproduction of skin cells and melanin leading to the acanthosis nigricans skin patches –

  1. Insulin Resistance – With an increase in body weight, a resistance to utilizing the insulin for healthy absorption of glucose is developed. Increased insulin levels affect the skin cell reproduction cycle and cause them to divide at a much faster rate. These skin cells also tend to have more levels of melanin, thus causing acanthosis nigricans patches to form.
  2. Hormonal Imbalance – Acanthosis nigricans is also commonly seen in people who have an underlying issue that leads to a hormonal imbalance, such as thyroid problem, PCOS, and disorders of the adrenal glands or pituitary gland.
  3. Medications – Certain internal medications like niacin, birth control pills, bodybuilding supplements, and corticosteroids can lead to acanthosis nigricans.
  4. Cancer – Cancer of the stomach, liver or colon can cause acanthosis nigricans patches to develop very quickly.

Also Read: How To Remove Dullness From Face?

What Are The Signs And Symptoms?

Acanthosis nigricans on the neck, underarms, and other parts of the body has distinct features making this skin condition fairly easy to recognize. Acanthosis nigricans symptoms are as follows –

  • Dark brown to black pigmented skin
  • Thick, velvety texture
  • Presence of skin tags
  • Possess a bad odor
  • Can be itchy

Types Of Acanthosis Nigricans

Depending on the determining factors, acanthosis nigricans is divided into the following types –

  1. Obesity-Related Acanthosis Nigricans – Most common type that is associated with insulin resistance in obese people.
  2. Syndromic Acanthosis Nigricans – When it is related to a syndrome such as PCOS.
  3. Acral Acanthosis Nigricans – Also called acral acanthosis nigricans and seen mostly in dark-skinned people.
  4. Drug-Induced Acanthosis Nigricans – Most uncommon type that is caused due to medications.
  5. Hereditary Benign Acanthosis Nigricans – An autosomal dominant trait in inherited from parents and symptoms can appear at any age including infant age.
  6. Malignant Acanthosis Nigricans – Associated with an underlying malignancy (cancer).
  7. Mixed Type Acanthosis Nigricans – When a mixture of any of the above types is seen.

How Is Acanthosis Nigricans Diagnosed?

It is important to get a medical diagnosis done by a certified dermatologist for precise identification. Because of the presence of evident physical symptoms, acanthosis nigricans can be diagnosed by the dermatologist by examining the affected skin. Additionally, to understand the underlying cause better, a blood test, sugar test, and skin biopsy will be recommended by the doctor.

Acanthosis Nigricans Treatments

The cosmetic therapies for acanthosis nigricans treatment include the following –

(A) Usage Of Prescribed Antibacterial Soap – This is to tackle the bad odor emanating from the patches and to avoid any serious infections from developing in the lesions.

(B) Topical Antibiotics – Creams containing antibiotics may be prescribed by a dermatologist to be applied on the dark patches to prevent infections.

(C) Topical Skin Lighteners – These include topical creams and ointments such as Retin-A (retinoids) that help to slow down the skin cells’ reproduction process and make the skin thinner and lighter as well.

(D) Chemical Peels – These may also be recommended that use ingredients such as salicylic acid, trichloroacetic acid (TCA), and Nomelan fenol to remove the darkened skin layers by the process of chemical exfoliation. Depending on the type of peel used, the ingredients can help tackle either hyperkeratosis or hyperpigmentation or both.

(E) Laser Therapy – Similar to the chemical peels’ method of exfoliation, specific lasers can be used to remove the dark, thick, and velvety skin. Once the skin heals after a laser treatment, the new skin that rises to the surface is much softer, smoother, and lighter. This treatment provides highly noticeable acanthosis nigricans before and after results.

(F) Dermabrasion – This acanthosis nigricans cure involves removing the top layers of the skin using a rotating tip and a suction pump. The effect of this treatment is similar to chemical peels. However, the healing time is longer.

Acanthosis Nigricans Vs. Skin Discoloration

Skin discoloration can occur in the form of hyperpigmentation wherein excess production of melanin can make the skin appear darker. Acanthosis nigricans is a type of skin discoloration, but there is also a change in skin texture in this condition. Skin discoloration may be due to the simplest of reasons such as sun damage and is easy to treat and prevent. Acanthosis, however, requires proper medical examination followed by a combination of medical and cosmetic treatments.

How To Get Rid Of Acanthosis Nigricans?

Depending on the underlying cause, the doctor may advise you on different courses for acanthosis nigricans treatment. These medical recommendations may include –

  • Losing weight
  • Eating healthy
  • Medications to bring blood sugar under control
  • Replacing medications that are triggering acanthosis
  • Relevant treatment for hormonal issues

Usually, if the underlying cause is brought under control, the dark patches formed do fade away do a great extent. But, this form of treatment can take a while to show results. For instant results, cosmetic therapies can be opted for in conjunction with the medical treatment.

Acanthosis nigricans might seem like a gruesome skin condition, but it is fairly manageable when the cause is identified correctly. Appropriate treatment follows accurate diagnosis. A combination of medical and cosmetic treatments will give you the best results.

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About The Author

Kushneet Kukreja

Kushneet Kukreja

A postgraduate in Biotechnology from Kingston University and an ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness & Nutrition, Kushneet Kukreja is a passionate writer who works in close association with the dermatologists at our head office to generate valuable and scientifically accurate content for our blog.


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