Acanthosis nigricans - NHS

Skip to main content

Acanthosis nigricans

Acanthosis nigricans is the name for dry, dark patches of skin that usually appear in the armpits, neck or groin. It could be a sign of an underlying condition, so it needs to be checked by a GP.

Check if you have acanthosis nigricans

The main symptom of acanthosis nigricans is patches of skin that are darker and thicker than usual.

They can appear anywhere on the body.

Acanthosis nigricans on the neck
The patches are dry and feel similar to velvet
Credit:

Benedicte Desrus / Alamy Stock Photo

https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-childhood-obesity-in-mexico-37878235.html?pv=1&stamp=2&imageid=D82F3D1E-88DD-48FC-8591-AE73FADBC974&p=68490&n=0&orientation=0&pn=1&searchtype=0&IsFromSearch=1&srch=foo%3dbar%26st%3d0%26pn%3d1%26ps%3d100%26sortby%3d2%26resultview%3dsortbyPopular%26npgs%3d0%26qt%3dC5HE23%26qt_raw%3dC5HE23%26lic%3d3%26mr%3d0%26pr%3d0%26ot%3d0%26creative%3d%26ag%3d0%26hc%3d0%26pc%3d%26blackwhite%3d%26cutout%3d%26tbar%3d1%26et%3d0x000000000000000000000%26vp%3d0%26loc%3d0%26imgt%3d0%26dtfr%3d%26dtto%3d%26size%3d0xFF%26archive%3d1%26groupid%3d%26pseudoid%3d%26a%3d%26cdid%3d%26cdsrt%3d%26name%3d%26qn%3d%26apalib%3d%26apalic%3d%26lightbox%3d%26gname%3d%26gtype%3d%26xstx%3d0%26simid%3d%26saveQry%3d%26editorial%3d1%26nu%3d%26t%3d%26edoptin%3d%26customgeoip%3d%26cap%3d1%26cbstore%3d1%26vd%3d0%26lb%3d%26fi%3d2%26edrf%3d0%26ispremium%3d1%26flip%3d0%26pl%3d

Acanthosis nigricans on the armpit
They're most common in skin folds, such as the armpits, neck or groin
Credit:

CID, ISM /SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

https://www.sciencephoto.com/media/459432/view

Acanthosis nigricans with skin tags on the armpit
Some people also have tiny growths on the patches
Credit:

ANDRE LABBE, ISM/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

https://www.sciencephoto.com/media/886025/view

The patches often appear gradually without any other symptoms.

Sometimes the skin may be itchy.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if you have:

  • new dark patches on your skin
  • any skin changes you're unsure about

Although it's usually harmless, it's best to get any skin changes checked out.

In rare cases, it can be a sign of something more serious, such as cancer.

A GP can usually tell if it's acanthosis nigricans by looking at your skin.

You may need some tests if they're not sure what's causing the patches.

Information:

Coronavirus update: how to contact a GP

It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

Find out about using the NHS during coronavirus

Causes of acanthosis nigricans

The most common cause of acanthosis nigricans is being very overweight.

Other causes include:

Sometimes acanthosis nigricans happens in healthy people with no other conditions. This is more common in people with dark skin.

Treating acanthosis nigricans

Once your GP knows what's causing the condition, they can recommend the best treatment.

The patches should fade over time once the cause is treated.

If you're very overweight, your GP may recommend losing weight.

Depending on the cause, they may also recommend:

  • medicine to balance your hormones
  • medicine to balance your insulin levels
  • changing your medicine to one that doesn't cause the patches

There's no specific treatment for the patches. A skin specialist (dermatologist) may be able to suggest treatments to improve their appearance, but finding and treating the cause is usually recommended first.

Page last reviewed: 23 April 2018
Next review due: 23 April 2021