Diabetes Can Cause Skin Darkening

One possible side effect of diabetes is the skin condition acanthosis nigricans (ak-an-THOE-sis NIE-grih-kuns).  Although this condition does not cause significant damage to the skin, it can cause concerns about the skin’s appearance.

Acanthosis nigricans results in dark, velvety, thick skin in the skin’s creases and body folds. It is commonly seen in the armpits, groin, and neck.  It can also appear over the joints of the fingers and toes and may cause very visible markings or lines where the skin creases. Although less common, it can also cause skin changes on the lips, palms of the hands, or soles of the feet.

This condition can appear in otherwise healthy people, but it is often associated with obesity and obesity-related diabetes.  Research has shown that most people with acanthosis nigricans have higher than normal levels of insulin.  Excess insulin in the body can activate insulin receptors in the skin which can cause the skin to grow abnormally.  The condition can appear at any age and is most often seen in people with dark skin.

Acanthosis nigricans typically develops slowly with very gradual changes in the skin over several months or years.  There are usually no other symptoms associated with the condition, although some people report that affected areas itch.  Areas where skin is thickened may also develop a bad odor which can be helped by using antibacterial soaps or topical antibiotics.

Acanthosis nigricans is generally diagnosed based on an examination of the skin.  Rarely, a skin sample may be sent to the lab for testing.  Although the condition is not hazardous, it can be a symptom of a more serious condition such as diabetes.  Medications such as niacin and some oral contraceptives can also cause acanthosis nigricans, as can hormone disorders, endocrine disorders, tumors, or certain types of cancer.

There is no direct treatment for acanthosis nigricans.  Treating the underlying condition that caused it may make the skin discoloration fade, such as losing weight or making changes to the diet to help control insulin levels.  Your doctor may also suggest cosmetic treatments to lighten the color of the skin in affected areas, such as lotions or creams, oral medications, or fish oil supplements. Skin treatments such as dermabrasion or laser therapy may also improve the appearance of the skin.

Denise DeWitt is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.



PubMed Health. Acanthosis nigricans. Web. March 11, 2012.


Mayo Clinic. Acanthosis nigricans. Web. March 11, 2012.


American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Acanthosis Nigricans. Web. March 11, 2012.


Tags: Insulin and skin changes,insulin and velvety skin,insulin and thick skin,insulin and skin discoloration

Category: Prevention