Skin Darkening Due to Diabetes

a woman using a blood sugar checker machine | Skin Darkening Due to Diabetes

Acanthosis Nigricans

In acanthosis nigricans, the skin becomes thick and velvety and depending on the person’s skin tone, it may become darker as well which is often a sign of an underlying condition, such as insulin resistance.

Acanthosis nigricans is most often seen in skin folds around the neck, groin, and armpits with some itching as well.

It is usually the sign of an underlying condition and is more likely to happen if a person has diabetes or obesity or uses certain medications. In some cases, it can happen with cancer.

Treatment usually involves addressing the underlying condition, although some cosmetic and topical approaches may help enhance the symptoms.

Treatment and home remedies for acanthosis nigricans

There is no specific treatment addressed for acanthosis nigricans.

While some cosmetic treatments might help, the most effective approach is to treat the underlying condition as addressing it may cause symptoms to fade in time.

Treating the symptoms

To lower the appearance of acanthosis nigricans, some people try topical or cosmetic treatments.

Examples of topical creams and ointments are:

  • retinoids containing a combination of tretinoin
  • ammonium lactate, which might be used with a topical retinoid
  • hydroquinone
  • podophyllin, which doctors use to treat warts
  • vitamin D analogues, such as calcipotriol (calcipotriene), which lower the production of keratinocyte

Cosmetic procedures that might help are:

  • dermabrasion, a kind of exfoliation
  • alexandrite laser, a kind of red light laser with a specific wavelength of 755 nanometers
  • chemical peels

Other options that may help include:

  • fish oil
  • topical creams containing urea or salicylic acid
  • triple-combination skin whitening or lightening cream containing tretinoin, hydroquinone, and fluocinolone acetonide
  • using a sunscreen

Some of these treatments have helped various people improve their signs and symptoms. However, the most effective approach is likely to be treating any underlying condition associated with this.

You should always consult with your doctor before using any of these products.

Treatment for underlying conditions

Treatment for an underlying condition may depend on the issue.

Hormone disorders: A treatment plan using medication and lifestyle adjustments may help balance hormones and decrease symptoms of acanthosis nigricans.

Diabetes Mellitus: People with type 2 diabetes may need medications, regular monitoring of blood sugar levels, and some diabetic diet and lifestyle adjustments. Once insulin levels become stable, acanthosis nigricans symptoms might start to resolve.

Weight management: Obesity is a risk factor for insulin resistance and various other aspects of metabolic disorders. Maintaining an ideal weight can help manage these conditions. In turn, skin symptoms may also improve.

Avoiding certain medications: Some drugs, such as corticosteroids, can even trigger acanthosis nigricans or skin allergy. Symptoms usually resolve if the person stops using the drug.

Can acanthosis nigricans go away without any treatment?

If acanthosis nigricans is a result of a hereditary disorder, the patches may grow slowly and then stop or decrease in size without any treatment. However, the changes will still remain in most cases while the underlying condition is present in the body.

Treating the underlying condition may enhance symptoms of acanthosis nigricans. If a person with obesity loses weight, the patches may fade with time. However, the changes in colour might not disappear completely.

Treating symptoms of skin will not make the lesions disappear. However, it may help enhance the appearance.

What Causes Diabetes?

Different causes are linked to each type of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes

The exact reason is not known for this but it is said, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.

Genes might also play a crucial role in some people. 

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes starts from a combination of genetics as well as lifestyle factors. Being overweight or obese increases your risk as well. Carrying extra weight, especially in your belly, makes your cells more resistant to the impact of insulin on your blood sugar.

This condition usually runs in families. 

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is the result of hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy. The placenta produces hormones that make a pregnant woman’s cells less sensitive to the impact of insulin which in turn can cause high blood sugar levels during pregnancy.

Women who are either overweight when they get pregnant or who put on too much weight during their pregnancy are more likely to get gestational diabetes.

Causes of acanthosis nigricans

Acanthosis nigricans usually indicate that an underlying disorder is present in the body. The changes take place when certain skin cells reproduce too quickly, causing hyperpigmentation and hyperkeratosis.

Risk factors for acanthosis nigricans

The following factors can cause acanthosis nigricans:

Insulin resistance

Acanthosis nigricans commonly affect people with insulin resistance and obesity, where the body is unable to use insulin effectively. Insulin resistance eventually causes type 2 diabetes.

Hormonal changes

People with hormonal disorders, such as Addison’s disease, PCOS, or hypothyroidism may get acanthosis nigricans.

Genetic factors

Hereditary acanthosis nigricans might be present from birth but it is usually developed during childhood or later in life.

Medication use

Certain drugs that may cause acanthosis nigricans are:

  • systemic glucocorticoids
  • diethylstilbestrol
  • combined oral contraceptive pill
  • growth hormone therapy
  • estrogen
  • protease inhibitors
  • niacin (nicotinic acid)
  • injected insulin


Acanthosis nigricans can develop with certain types of cancer. Skin changes may appear before, during, or after internal symptoms become prominent.

Some auto-immune conditions

People with lupus, scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome, or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis may develop acanthosis nigricans.

Take Away

Acanthosis nigricans involve skin changes causing patches of dark, thick, and velvety skin. These can be seen on the neck, underarms, skin folds, and other parts of the body.

People who notice changes in their skin should see their doctor, as they may need treatment for an underlying condition. Treating an underlying disorder may improve skin symptoms. Some topical and cosmetic treatments might also help deal with it.