Have you been noticing stubborn dark patches in your armpits and the back of your neck? These may be a pointer to a more serious skin condition or even an internal malignancy.
According to medical research, there has been a surge of diabetes and obesity cases in the last few decades. This has resulted in various skin and hair problems. According to Ayurveda, hyperpigmentation and hyperkeratosis patches on the skin may also indicate a condition arising from diabetes and obesity. However, a change of lifestyle and timely Ayurvedic treatments can ensure holistic healing.
Our Ayurvedic Doctor Speaks
“Ayurvedic treatment for Acanthosis nigricans falls under the lines of treating obesity and diabetes.”
Dr. Zeel Gandhi, Chief Ayurvedic Doctor, Vedix
- What Is Acanthosis Nigricans/Velvety Skin?
- What Causes Acanthosis Nigricans?
- What Are The Types Of Acanthosis Nigricans?
- Symptoms Of Acanthosis Nigricans
- Risk Factors Of Acanthosis Nigricans
- Treatment Methods Of Acanthosis Nigricans
- How Can We Prevent Acanthosis Nigricans?
- When To See A Dermatologist About Acanthosis Nigricans?
- Frequently Asked Questions About Acanthosis Nigricans
What Is Acanthosis Nigricans/Velvety Skin?
This is a skin disorder commonly observed in people affected by diabetes and obesity. Acanthosis nigricans (AN)  develops due to insulin resistance, which leads to hyperkeratosis and hyperpigmentation of the skin. It usually occurs in the creases of your body such as the armpits, groin, neck and other areas such as the knees, elbows, palms of the hand, knuckles and feet.
This condition  is characterised by uniformly distributed dark patches where the skin is thick, coarse and velvety in texture. The affected areas may experience skin irritation and/ or give off a foul smell.
The term acanthosis means a rapid growth of specialized squamous cells in your skin. Nigricans refers to black in Latin, suggesting the dark lesions that characterize this skin condition.
What Causes Acanthosis Nigricans?
As per medical diagnosis, the main cause for this condition is a resistance to insulin . Insulin is a hormone produced in your pancreas that regulates your blood glucose levels. In people with diabetes (especially type 2) and / or obesity, the body is unable to effectively use this hormone.
This may lead to a high concentration of insulin in your bloodstream, which triggers certain cell growth factors. As a result, one experiences skin manifestations such as Acanthosis nigricans resulting from hyperkeratosis. The affected areas have rapid cell growth, which tend to contain excess melanin, thus creating dark lesions.
Other causes of acanthosis nigricans include:
- Underlying medical conditions such as PCOS, Cushing syndrome, thyroid disorders, adrenal gland disorders.
- Medications that interfere with insulin production. These include birth control pills, steroids, HGH supplements, insulin, thyroid medicines.
What Are The Types Of Acanthosis Nigricans?
1. Obesity Associated Acanthosis Nigricans
A deposition of adipose tissues in the body, in case of obesity, leads to the secretion of various cytokines which can cause insulin resistance. Obesity associated AN is more common in adulthood with patients who weigh almost double their body weight.
2. Benign Genetic Acanthosis Nigricans
This cutaneous condition is more prevalent amongst people of Afro-American origin. It is inherited as a rare autosomal disorder which may be present during birth or develop during childhood. Benign genetic AN commonly affects the hands and feet of people who are otherwise healthy.
3. Malignant Acanthosis Nigricans
Acanthosis nigricans maligna is caused by internal malignancies such as cancers of the abdominal organs. It is mostly seen in patients affected by gastric, pancreas, ovary, kidney cancers. The condition is likely to heal with treatment of the primary condition. However, a reappearance of lesions may indicate a resurgence of the malignancy.
4. Drug Associated Acanthosis Nigricans
Medications used to treat hormone disorders, thyroid conditions or diabetes may interfere with the insulin levels in your body. An excess of insulin also known as hyperinsulinemia caused by drug side effects can trigger the condition. Drug induced AN often regress with discontinuation of the medication.
5. Unilateral Acanthosis Nigricans
As per the name, the lesions of this rare type of AN appear unilaterally along the lines of cell development. This type of condition has a genetic influence and may become more prominent with age.
6. Syndromic Acanthosis Nigricans
This condition develops as a result of an underlying medical syndrome. There are two types - Type A and B. Type A is associated with hyperandrogenism which results from an excess of androgen hormones in the body. Type B is a common symptom noted in women diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, dermoid cyst of the ovary or an auto-immune disease.
7. Acral Acanthosis Nigricans
As the name suggests, acral AN  affects the peripheral parts of the body such as the knees, phalangeal joints of the hands, ankles and metatarsophalangeal joints. It is quite common in people with a dark complexion. Acral acanthosis nigricans is also referred to as acral acanthotic anomaly.
8. Mixed Acanthosis Nigricans
In this condition, a patient may develop lesions simultaneously from two different types of acanthosis nigricans such as obesity associated and malignant type.
9. Auto-Immune Acanthosis Nigricans
Certain auto-immune diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus may cause your immune system to develop antibodies that fight insulin receptors thereby making you resistant to insulin. Such a condition can lead to the formation of acanthosis nigricans lesions.
10. Familial Acanthosis Nigricans
This rare condition is caused by a chromosome abnormality. The condition is inherited and may persist from one’s childhood to puberty.
Symptoms Of Acanthosis Nigricans
The common symptoms  include:
- Thick, velvety, brownish patches in the folds of your body such as the armpits, neck, groin area. Lesions can also occur on the phalangeal joints and mucous membranes.
- Mild itching sensation.
- Skin tags surrounding the affected areas.
Risk Factors Of Acanthosis Nigricans
Look out for the following risk factors which may increase your chance of developing this condition.
- Internal medical conditions
- Medications that disrupt hormonal balance in the body
- People of certain ethnic backgrounds such as Africans and native Americans, are also more susceptible
Treatment Methods Of Acanthosis Nigricans
A. Home Remedies
Home remedies focus on gentle exfoliation and skin brightening to treat hyperkeratosis and hyperpigmentation of the affected skin areas.
1. Tender Coconut Wash
Regularly wash the affected areas with tender coconut water to remove the dark patches caused by acanthosis nigricans.
2. Orange Peel/ Oatmeal Scrub
The bleaching properties of orange peel and the anti-inflammatory nature of oatmeal gently slough off the thick, hardened lesions thus initiating healing and healthy skin development.
How To Use
Both orange peel powder and colloidal oatmeal can be prepared into a skin brightening scrub by adding milk to it. Gently massage over the affected areas, let it stay for 10- 15 minutes and wash off.
3. Lemon & Honey
Citric acid in lemon reduces hyperpigmentation and humectant and antibacterial properties of honey helps to heal the lesions.
How To Use
Squeeze the juice of a lemon and add a spoon of honey to it. Apply on the lesions and wash off after 20 minutes.
4. Aloe Vera Gel
Aloin in aloe vera is a natural depigmenting compound which is widely used for treating pigmentation disorders.
How To Use
Directly apply the gel on the lesions and leave it on for an hour before washing off. Aloe vera can also be used as a moisturizer on the face to prevent skin irritation caused by facial acanthosis nigricans.
5. Red Onion Paste
Red onion, especially the skin and its outer layers are known for their pigment reducing abilities.
How To Use
Blend 2 red onions and apply the paste on the lesions in the neck, face and other regions. Allow the remedy to stand for 30 minutes before washing off.
B. Topical Ayurvedic Treatments
“Ayurvedic treatment for acanthosis nigricans falls under the lines of treating obesity and diabetes. Medoroga chikitsa or treatment for obesity mentions treatment for excessive sweating and skin darkening. Acanthosis nigricans can be thus understood in respect to obesity,” says Dr. Zeel.
Prameha pidika are skin lesions owing to diabetes. Though these are advanced and unlike acanthosis nigricans, they may appear like it in their initial stages. “Pastes of varnya herbs can be applied externally. Meshashringi, Navaka guggul, Triphala mandoor, Chandraprabha vati are certain internal medicines prescribed to treat the condition,” she adds.
1. Herbal Ubtan For Hyperkeratosis
Ubtan refers to a special type of Ayurvedic massage which uses medicated oils and herbs. It is performed using upward strokes and has immense healing abilities. It further enhances subcutaneous blood circulation, removes harmful ama toxins and balances all three doshas.
A. Yashtimadhu, Triphala & Coconut Oil
Prepare a coarse paste by adding the above ingredients. Gently exfoliate and wash off with lukewarm water.
B. Masoor, Lodhra & Milk
Soak masoor dal overnight and blend it to prepare a granulated scrub. Add lodhra powder and milk and gently massage the lesions. Wash off with lukewarm water after 15 minutes.
2. Varnya Herb Lepas For Removing Hyperpigmentation
A. Vetiver, Turmeric & Musta Oil
Mix the above ingredients to make a herbal lepa. Apply on the lesions and wash off after 20 to 30 minutes. Repeat daily or at least 3 to 4 times a week for best results. 
B. Amla, Brahmi, Neem & Olive Oil
Blend amla, brahmi and neem leaves together. Add olive oil to the mixture to make a paste and apply on the affected areas. Wash off after half an hour.
C. Red Sandalwood, Saffron & Milk
Soak saffron in milk for an hour and add red sandalwood powder to prepare the lepa. Apply on the face for facial acanthosis nigricans and other affected areas. Wash off after 20 minutes.
D. Laksha (Laccifer Lacca) & Milk
Laksha, a brownish coloured resin secreted by the female lac insect is used as a potential remedy to treat hyperpigmentation caused by acanthosis nigricans. Add laksha to milk and blend it into a paste and apply on the lesions. Wash off after 30 minutes.
3. Ayurvedic Oils For Acanthosis Nigricans
A. Kumkumadi Thailam
Infused with the goodness of 21 ayurvedic herbs such as saffron, manjistha, laksha, vetiver, yastimadhu, padma and others, this complexion enhancing miracle oil is an apt remedy. Apply twice daily and wash off after 1 hour.
B. Durvadi Thailam
Durva leaves are used in Ayurveda for treating a number of skin diseases. Apply the oil twice a day and wash off after an hour. Continue using till the condition improves.
C. Other Treatments
Retinoids are a type of Vitamin A that increase your cell turnover rate and exfoliate damaged top layers of your skin. It is used to treat both hyperkeratosis and hyperpigmentation caused by acanthosis nigricans. Retinoids are available as creams and ointments and its concentration can be decided by your dermatologist according to the severity of your lesions.
Metformin is used to treat type 2 diabetes. With diabetes and obesity being two main causes of acanthosis nigricans, doctors often prescribe metformin to treat the condition. Metformin is known to increase insulin sensitivity and as per patient reports, even helps in weight loss.
D. Foods To Eat & Avoid
1. Foods To Increase Insulin Sensitivity
Guduchi or Giloy helps regulate insulin production in the body. It also helps lower blood glucose levels in patients with diabetes.
B. Bitter Gourd
According to clinical studies, a wide range of bio-active chemicals, vitamins and antioxidants give bitter gourd its hypoglycemic properties . Including this in your daily diet can help heal acanthosis nigricans patches on your skin.
Well known for its anti-inflammatory abilities, recent studies also claim its usefulness as an anti-diabetic remedy. Consume a few cloves of raw garlic everyday to help heal this condition.
D. Fenugreek Seeds
Methi or fenugreek seeds are a rich source of fiber which helps slow down the rate at which your body breaks down foods. A slow digestion rate helps your body to gradually absorb carbohydrates, keeping your blood sugar in control.
E. Banana Stem
Banana stem is high in fiber and other essential nutrients such as potassium and vitamins. Regular consumption is known to reduce weight and keep your blood sugar in check.
Curcumin in turmeric has amazing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which may help lower your blood sugar. Curcumin may also promote weight loss by curbing excess fat tissue deposition.
Certain studies claim cinnamon’s ability to reduce insulin resistance. People diagnosed with obesity associated acanthosis nigricans can also benefit from cinnamon’s weight reducing properties.
The compound zingerone, found in ginger, is believed to help your body absorb carbohydrates better, which in turn keeps your sugar levels down. Lemon, ginger and honey on an empty stomach is a popular fat reducing drink advised to people with obesity.
Vedix Tip: To prevent hyperpigmentation from acanthosis nigricans, avoid foods that vitiate your pitta dosha. These include tea, coffee, spicy foods and chillies.
2. Foods To Detoxify & Regulate Hormone Fluctuations
Ashwagandha may be particularly helpful for drug-associated acanthosis nigricans where certain medicines trigger hormone fluctuations in the body as part of their side effects. The herb can be consumed with ghee, honey or warm water.
Manjistha is an excellent blood purifier that removes toxins from your body and can aid the healing of acanthosis nigricans. The herb also helps regulate metabolism and prevents irregular appetite.
3. Foods To Avoid For Acanthosis Nigricans
Processed and oily foods (trans fats) that cause excess weight gain or contain added sugar are better avoided. Stick to a low carb diet, consume lots of water and include vitamins, minerals and omega 3 in your diet. Ayurveda also advises against consuming pungent or sour foods. This balances your pitta dosha and helps with hyperpigmentation caused by acanthosis nigricans.
How Can We Prevent Acanthosis Nigricans?
- Switch to a healthy diet that is devoid of oily, trans fat foods and also has a low glycemic index.
- Exercise regularly to prevent obesity.
- Get enough sleep for healthy metabolism and a stress free lifestyle.
- Check with your doctor for medicine side effects.
When To See A Dermatologist About Acanthosis Nigricans?
It is always advisable to seek medical help if the lesions do not heal with the herbal and home remedies mentioned in this article. If you notice the lesions are spread over an extensive area, fast spreading or recurring, consult your dermatologist immediately. A skin biopsy and a thorough check-up will aid the diagnosis and treatment of the condition.
Frequently Asked Questions About Acanthosis Nigricans
1. Will Acanthosis Nigricans Go Away On Its Own?
Most types of acanthosis nigricans heal on their own with simple home remedies. Further, managing the original cause that is triggering the condition will result in quick recovery.
2. Are Acanthosis Nigricans And Hyperpigmentation The Same?
Hyperpigmentation occurs due to irregular function of melanocytes in the dermal layer. Various internal and external factors can stimulate melanocytes into over-producing melanin. Acanthosis nigricans is one such condition that causes hyperpigmentation.
The Last Word
Acanthosis nigricans is a common skin condition that can be treated with Ayurvedic and home remedies mentioned in this article. However, the condition may be an indicator of a pre-diabetic stage or even a red alert for hidden malignancies. Visit your Ayurvedic doctor for a complete diagnosis of your Prakriti (body constitution), which will help you lead a healthy dosha balancing lifestyle.Know Your Dosha Now
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