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Areas of dark skin appearing usually on skin folds - armpits, between legs, and on the neck, are the common manifestation of a skin disorder called Acanthosis Nigricans. It can appear on any part of the skin surface and there are usually no other associated symptoms.

What is Acanthosis Nigricans?

Acanthosis is a medical term which describes thickening of the most superficial layer of the skin - stratum corneum. Acanthosis nigricans is a type of acanthosis in which the affected skin gets dark brown color due to thickening, and is usually located in the areas of the skin that are susceptible to friction, such as armpits, thighs, and even neck in some persons. This disorder is the most pronounced in people with naturally darker skin. Until recently, not much attention was given to this disorder, as it was considered to be purely esthetical problem.

Causes of Acanthosis Nigricans

In many cases, the darkening of the skin is the only symptom and it can occur in completely healthy persons with no other disorders, but genetic factors are often involved. On the other hand, although the pathophysiology of this disease is not yet entirely investigated, some people are shown to be more susceptible to develop these skin changes. For example, recent studies have proven higher incidence of acanthosis nigricans in persons with insulin resistance. Insulin resistance represents the first sign of sugar metabolism disturbance and it can progress to type II diabetes mellitus if not treated properly.

Acanthosis is also a common finding in obese people.

Persons with hormonal status disturbances are more likely to develop this disorder as many hormones, such as thyroid hormone, estrogen and hormones of adrenal glands have a great impact on the skin. Additionally, drugs and tumors that affect hormonal status can also cause acanthosis nigricans.

The Importance of Acanthosis Nigricans

The diagnosis of acanthosis nigricans is almost always very easy, and your dermatologist will most probably recognize it on a first sight. If you are already diagnosed with this disorder, it is necessary that you do the check of your blood glucose levels and perhaps your hormonal status because of the strong connection between these disorders with acanthosis.

Although these skin changes may look unpleasant, they could be the first sign of early phase insulin resistance which can possibly be eliminated without medication, just by applying several lifestyle changes. That way, the progression towards type II diabetes mellitus can be prevented.

Treatment Options

If you are obese, that is most probably the reason that you have developed this disorder. Losing weight can stop and even reverse the progress of accanthosis nigricans. If you have any of above explained conditions that may be related to acanthosis, their treatment should help eliminate skin changes too. Keep a good hygiene of affected regions, as bacterial infections can worsen the symptoms. If necessary, the discoloration can be eliminated by laser treatment. Skin care products that contain retinoic acid are often used to treat acne, but can also be applied here to reduce the thickness of affected skin.

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