What is Acanthosis Nigricans?
Acanthosis nigricans is a skin pigmentation condition characterized by dark patches on the skin with a thick and velvety texture.
The affected region of the skin may itch and sometimes give off an odor. The condition is most commonly caused by having an excess of insulin in the bloodstream and is more common in overweight people and those with diabetes.
The dark patches usually appear on folds of skin and can occur all over the body including:
- the neck
- the groin
- the armpits
- the knees and elbows
- the knuckles
- the palms
- the lips
Acanthosis nigricans might be a warning sign that you have a more serious condition like prediabetes but is usually not a serious disorder in itself. Treatment focuses on resolving the underlying issue and the patches usually disappear after the root cause has been treated.
Both men and women are affected by acanthosis nigricans but there are certain risk factors including being overweight, having diabetes and prediabetes or having dark skin.
Ethnicity is a factor with people of an African, Hispanic or Caribbean descent being more at risk. However, the risk is higher in those who are overweight or obese whatever their ethnicity.
Causes of Acanthosis Nigricans
The dark patches of skin associated with the condition occur as epidermal cells start reproducing at an abnormally fast rate. This abnormal cell growth is usually triggered by higher than normal insulin levels in the bloodstream.
More rarely, the increase in cell growth can be caused by a disease such as cancer or by certain medications.
High Insulin levels are the most common cause. When we consume food, the body converts carbohydrates into glucose and other sugar molecules. Some of the glucose gets used by the cells for energy while the remainder is stored. For glucose to be used as energy, insulin needs to allow the sugars to enter the cells.
People who are overweight develop an insulin resistance and the body fails to use it effectively. This can lead to a glucose build up in the blood resulting in high levels of glucose and insulin in the bloodstream.
An excess of insulin causes a rapid reproduction of the skin cells. In people with darker skin, the new skin cells possess more melanin. The increase in the amount of melanin in the skin causes dark patches because it is darker than the surrounding skin.
Treatment focuses on addressing the root cause of the condition. If you are overweight, you can go on a diet and try getting more exercise to control your weight. Medications are also prescribed to control blood glucose.
There are also certain cosmetic treatments that can help reduce the appearance of the patches such as skin lighteners, acne medication and laser treatment.
Home Remedies for Acanthosis Nigricans
Losing weight by eating a proper diet and getting plenty of exercise can help bring your weight under control and reduce glucose levels in the blood. There are also a number of cosmetic remedies that can help diminish the discoloration of your skin.
1) A Healthy Diet
One of the most important things you can do to get your symptoms under control is to eat a healthy, calorie controlled diet. Losing weight can make a huge difference to your condition especially if the discoloration is a result of diabetes or prediabetes.
There are plenty of healthy diets for people with diabetes to keep their condition under control and to help them lose some of the excess weight. Most diets should include plenty of healthy fats and dietary fiber with a reduction in sugars and carbohydrates.
Try to get your fats from healthy sources such as olive oil, coconut oil and flax seed oil. Stay away from unhealthy fats, oils and processed foods. Limit the amount of carbohydrates that you consume, especially refined carbs like white bread, pasta and rice. Choose high fiber whole grain options instead. You can also eat plenty of seeds, nuts, lean meats and fish.
A carefully planned diet can do wonders for your weight, help keep blood glucose and insulin levels in control and ultimately, help treat your acanthosis nigricans.
2. Get Some Exercise
As well as being good for your health in general, exercising regularly can also help you to lose weight and control the symptoms of both diabetes and acanthosis nigricans.
If you are not used to exercising, try not to feel daunted. Start slowly and set realistic daily and weekly goals. You will soon start to feel much fitter and the exercise will become easier and more enjoyable for you.
Try brisk walking, swimming, cycling and gentle jogging. Alternating your routine is a great way to stay motivated and keep the body in great shape. Aim for at least 40 minutes of exercise every day and don’t forget to warm up and cool down. There are some great apps available to monitor your exercise routine and to set improvement goals. Once you start to see the weight drop off, you are unlikely to want to stop.
When combined with a careful diet plan, regular exercise is a great way to shift the pounds. Because acanthosis nigricans is linked so inextricably to weight issues, you should also see the pigmentation in your skin improve.
Cosmetic Home Remedies to Lighten the Skin
There are also several cosmetic remedies that you can try but it is vitally important that you maintain your diet and exercise regime. While the following remedies may help diminish the dark skin, they do not get to the root cause of the condition and certainly will not cure it once and for all.
3. Coconut Oil with Camphor
A combination of coconut oil and camphor is a time honored home remedy for acanthosis and is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine. Coconut oil has excellent anti-fungal and antibacterial properties that are great for the skin. When combined with camphor, it can help naturally treat the hyperpigmentation but is also good for your skin in general.
- Melt some virgin coconut oil in a pot and add a pellet of camphor.
- Remove your coconut oil from the heat then allow the camphor to dissolve completely.
- Let the mixture cool down then apply it to the dark areas of skin.
- Repeat the remedy a few times each day.
4. Tea Tree Essential Oil
Tea tee essential oil has a wide variety of incredible health properties. It has extremely powerful antibacterial and anti-fungal actions and provided that you dilute it with a carrier oil like coconut oil, is safe for topical application. As well as being antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory in nature, tea tree essential oil can be used to diminish the appearance of dark skin characteristic of acanthosis.
- Dilute a few drops of your essential oil with a spoonful of virgin coconut oil or jojoba oil.
- Apply the mixture to the affected area of your skin each day.
- Alternatively, you can add a few drops of tea tree oil to the bathtub and take a long soak.
5) Lemon Juice
Lemon juice is a cheap, effective, natural remedy to treat skin discoloration. Lemon juice has the natural ability to lighten the skin because of its powerful citric acid content. Be careful to avoid exposure to direct sunlight after applying it to your skin.
There are several ways to use lemon juice on your skin. You can use it alone or combine it with a pinch of turmeric or rose water.
- Squeeze out the juice of a medium sized lemon and add a drop of water.
- Use a cotton ball to apply it to the affected area of skin.
- Let the juice work for at lest 20 minutes before rinsing it away with cold water.
- Repeat twice daily for as long as necessary.
6) Yogurt and Lime Juice
Yogurt has excellent cleansing properties and when combined with the citric juice of lime or lemon it has the ability to lighten your discolored skin.
- Add a teaspoon of fresh lime or lemon juice to half a cup of plain yogurt and stir well.
- Apply the yogurt mixture to the affected part of your skin.
- Allow to work for around 20 minutes then rinse it of with clean water.
- Repeat once or twice a day.
7) Other Home Remedies
Other topical remedies that may help diminish the pigmented appearance of your skin include neem, aloe vera and honey.