Acanthosis Nigricans Information for Skin Care Professionals


Acanthosis nigricans (AN) is a skin condition characterized by hyperpigmentation in areas of skin that become darker, or more pigmented, and may turn greyish, black, or brown.

These areas of skin also become thicker and may take on a velvet-like appearance. Eventually, skin lines may become deeper and more noticeable, and wart-like growths can appear. Occasionally, the lesions may become dry and pruritic (itchy) and can feel rough to the touch. Skin tags are also frequently visible in surrounding areas affected by AN. Some people will emit an unusual, bad odor, and they may experience skin changes on one side of their body only (unilateral acanthosis nigricans).

Changes to the skin typically develop slowly and they can occur anywhere, but most commonly affect the anus, armpits, genitals, groin, back, and sides of the neck. Less commonly, AN develops on the back of the knees, front of the elbows, knuckles, lips, palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and under the breasts.

The majority of cases of AN result from obesity, insulin resistance, or diabetes. It is more common in people who are of African, Caribbean, Hispanic, or Native American descent. Acanthosis nigricans skin patches occur when epidermal skin cells begin to reproduce rapidly. This abnormal skin cell growth is most commonly triggered by high levels of insulin in the blood. Weight loss and reversing insulin resistance are the most effective ways to eliminate any skin changes. It is reversible and will disappear as the cause is treated.

The prevalence of acanthosis nigricans is high in both males (46 percent) and females (58percent). Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is well-established as an insulin-resistant state, and this may account for some or all of the higher prevalence of AN among women with type 2 diabetes mellitus.


What is the cause of acanthosis nigricans with your client?

Determine any medications, contraindications, and cautions before proceeding with any spa treatment.

Treatments that can be offered:

  • Electrodessication—skin tags
  • Mild chemical peels (retinol; AHAs); microdermabrasion—discoloration/roughness
  • Brightening facials, sun protection—discoloration
  • Hydration—itching
  • Remedial camouflage—appearance

DISCLAIMER: Work within the scope of your license/certification.




Portrait of Mórag Currin. About the Author

Mórag Currin is a highly sought-after esthetic educator with more than 27 years of spa industry experience and more than twelve years of training and training management experience. She travels around the globe with her training and expertise, helping to raise the bar in the spa industry and to open the door to all people, regardless of skin type or health condition. To learn more about this topic and many other skin challenges, diseases, and symptoms, check out Mórag’s book, Health Challenged Skin: The Estheticians’ Desk Reference.

ASCP Logo.
ASCP Member Discount

ASCP Members receive 30% off Health Challenged Skin: The Estheticians’ Desk Reference. Click the link here to access your exclusive discount!


Please note: We have recently updated our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Learn more...