What is acanthosis nigricans?

According to information from National Institutes of Health (NIH), acanthosis nigricans is a condition in which the skin becomes discolored. The disorder usually appears where the skin folds or creases: commonly affected areas include the neck, under the arms, groin and genital areas and under the breasts. Affected skin is darker in color than the surrounding skin -- usually ranging from light brown to black. Additionally, affected skin usually changes in texture and might feel thicker or more velvety than skin on other parts of the body. The thickened skin also might develop an unpleasant odor.

Who develops acanthosis nigricans?

The NIH asserts that while acanthosis nigricans can affect healthy people, it usually appears as a complication to other conditions including obesity and endocrine disorders. The condition is most commonly seen in patients with obesity-related diabetes. People with dark skin tones, including those of African, Hispanic or Native American descent, are frequently diagnosed with acanthosis nigricans.

WebMD suggests that eating too much of the wrong food can also trigger acanthosis nigricans, as the condition is sometimes associated with having too much insulin in the blood. A diet high in starches, carbohydrates and sugars might lead to acanthosis nigricans.

Other causes of acanthosis nigricans might include:

  • Addison's disease or other adrenal conditions
  • Pituitary gland disorders
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Oral contraceptives

Additionally, people with certain cancers -- including lymphoma and those of the gastrointestinal or genitourinary tracts -- are at risk of developing acanthosis nigricans.

How is acanthosis nigricans treated?

Treating the underlying condition causing acanthosis nigricans may allow the condition clear up on its own and help the discoloration fade. This means that controlling your diabetes and maintaining a healthy blood sugar level is usually enough to keep the condition at bay.

If the acanthosis nigricans was linked to another cause, treating that problem could help your skin return to normal. For example if your acanthosis nigricans is linked to obesity, losing the extra weight can help. Additionally, following a special diet to help reduce the amount of insulin in the blood can also help acanthosis nigricans improve.

Though taking care of any underlying condition is usually enough to make acanthosis nigricans clear up on its own, WebMD notes that prescription topical creams like Retin-A and solutions of urea, alpha hydroxyl acids and salicylic acid might help the skin's appearance improve.

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