Acanthosis nigricans is an uncommon skin disorder that causes brown or black patchy areas to develop on the skin. While this condition isn’t life-threatening, many people experience psychological distress because the areas may appear similar to dirt.
If you notice discolored, thick, or dry areas of your skin, it’s wise to see a dermatologist. At Hines Dermatology Associates, skin specialist Dr. Yvonne Hines specializes in treating rare and difficult-to-treat skin conditions.
It’s important to avoid self-diagnosing; proper diagnosis is key to finding effective treatment. Dr. Hines takes your skin concerns seriously and performs a thorough evaluation to get to the root of your skin problems.
What is acanthosis nigricans?
Acanthosis nigricans is a skin disorder that affects the pigmentation and texture of your skin. People with acanthosis nigricans develop thick, dark patches. In some cases, the patches itch or give off an unpleasant odor.
In rare cases, acanthosis nigricans can be a sign of certain cancers involving the liver or stomach.
What areas does acanthosis nigricans affect?
Acanthosis nigricans most commonly affects the folds and creases throughout the body, such as the neck, armpits, beneath the breasts, and groin. When it develops on the neck, many people say the dark patches make them feel self-conscious in social situations.
The condition is not contagious or infectious.
Connection between acanthosis nigricans and diabetes
Most people with acanthosis nigricans have insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes if it goes untreated. High insulin levels are believed to lead to darkening of the skin.
Your body produces insulin in response to carbohydrates in your diet, which the body breaks down into blood sugar.
While glucose is your body’s main fuel source, high levels are damaging, so the body must remove it from the bloodstream and get it into the cells. The body keeps a very narrow range of glucose in the blood.
When you have insulin resistance, your body no longer responds optimally to insulin, which causes the pancreas to produce even more insulin to try to get the glucose out of the bloodstream.
Over time, the body may have trouble keeping up, resulting in elevated blood sugar and eventually Type 2 diabetes.
Risk factors for acanthosis nigricans
Obesity is an important risk factor for acanthosis. Many people with this skin condition are overweight or obese, and it’s worth noting that many people who develop Type 2 diabetes are also carrying excess weight.
While acanthosis nigricans doesn’t cause diabetes, developing this skin issue increases your risk of Type 2 diabetes at some point.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is another risk factor for acanthosis nigricans. PCOS develops when the ovaries produce excessive androgen, a male hormone. The condition is linked to insulin resistance and also increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, people with darker skin are more likely to develop acanthosis nigricans than those who are fair-skinned.
Does acanthosis nigricans improve with weight loss?
Studies on the benefit of weight loss toward acanthosis nigricans are lacking. However, weight loss and improving insulin sensitivity are beneficial to your overall health and may help to improve your skin if you have the skin disorder.
Treating acanthosis nigricans
Treatment for acanthosis nigricans aims to manage underlying factors, such as obesity, PCOS, or insulin resistance.
We also recommend ways to cosmetically improve your skin while working to resolve the underlying issues. Skin creams, medications, and laser therapy are treatment options that may help improve the appearance of the skin.
For a comprehensive skin evaluation, call our team in Attleboro, Massachusetts, to schedule a visit with Dr. Hines. You can also book online, and telemedicine services are now available.