Acanthosis Nigricans

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Playing Woman Embarrassed by Skin

Mayra, 21, says she started noticing dark spots on her skin around age 8. The condition became more severe during her three pregnancies, creating more dark-colored, rough patches on her skin as well as several skin tags on her neck and underarms. She says she’s very embarrassed by her condition, so much so that she doesn’t feel comfortable wearing her hair up or being intimate with her husband.

“I just don’t feel pretty. I just wish I could be in someone else’s skin,” she says.

Desperate for answers, she reaches out to The Doctors, who send her to dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee for a consultation. Dr. Lee examines Mayra, removes the skin tags from her neck and biopsies one of the dark patches. The results of her testing showed that Mayra is suffering from acanthosis nigricans.

What is it?

Most common in Native Americans, African Americans and Hispanics, acanthosis nigricans is a skin condition characterized by areas of dark, velvety discoloration in body folds and creases. It typically occurs in people who are obese or who have obesity-related insulin resistance.

Common symptoms

Skin changes associated with AN appear slowly, sometimes over months or years, and can include:

  • Dark, thickened, velvety patches of skin in body folds and creases, typically in the armpits, groin and neck
  • Affected skin might also smell bad or feel itchy
  • Benign skin growths, also known as skin tags, can grow in areas where there are folds

Treatment options

Dr. Lee explains that in addition to prescription topical creams to lighten the affected areas and treatments to reduce the skin’s thickness, an important step in treating AN is losing excess weight

She says that while Mayra’s blood work showed she was not currently at risk of developing diabetes, AN is considered a precursor for the condition. By working toward attaining a healthier weight, Dr. Lee says that Mayra can help reduce the spread and severity of her AN as well as reduce her risk of developing a potentially life-threatening illness like diabetes.