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Acanthosis nigricans: Diagnosis and treatment

How do dermatologists diagnose acanthosis nigricans?

A dermatologist can diagnose acanthosis nigricans (AN) by looking at your skin.

If your dermatologist diagnoses you with AN, you may need a blood test and other medical tests. These tests can help find out if you have another medical condition. AN is more common in people who have diabetes. Sometimes, AN can be a warning sign of pre-diabetes, thyroid disease, or another condition.

How do dermatologists treat acanthosis nigricans?

Many people see their skin clear when they get treatment for the condition that is causing AN. If you have pre-diabetes, getting that under control often helps to fade the dark patches on your skin. If testing finds a problem with your thyroid or adrenal glands, treating that condition can clear your skin.

You don't have to have a medical condition to have an AN. It's also possible that treating an underlying medical condition like pre-diabetes won't completely clear the dark patches.

It's not necessary to treat an AN. If you want to see clearer skin, a dermatologist can treat you.

Treatment for AN includes the following:

  • Lighten skin color: Prescription creams, ointments, and gels

  • Reduce skin thickness: Laser treatments

  • Decrease odor and discomfort: Antibiotics you apply to the skin and antibacterial soaps

  • Help clear the skin: Retinoids (may be a cream or pill)

None of these treatments is specifically designed to treat AN. Dermatologists have found, however, that these can help. Sometimes, AN is difficult to treat.


If you have AN, it is essential to find out whether another disease is causing it. Finding and treating an undiagnosed disease may clear (or partially clear) your skin.

If a disease is not causing your AN or you do not see the results you want from treating a related disease, a dermatologist can treat your skin.

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Hermanns-Le T, Scheen A, Pierard GE. “Acanthosis nigricans associated with insulin resistance.” Am J Clin Derm. 2004;5(3):199-203.

Kapoor S. “Diagnosis and treatment of acanthosis nigricans.” Skinmed. 2010 May-Jun;8(3):161-4; quiz 165.

Sinha S, Schwartz RA. “Juvenile acanthosis nigricans.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007;57:502-8.

Yosipovitch G, DeVore A, Dawn A. “Obesity and the skin: Skin physiology and skin manifestations of obesity.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007;56:901-16.