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Overweight and Obesity

It Looks Like There’s Dirt on My Skin That Won’t Wash Off. What’s Going On?

There is stubborn dirt under my arms and on my neck. I take baths regularly and scrub these areas, but it won’t come off and I’m really getting freaked out because I don’t know if I have a disease or something. I’m a little overweight and I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. Any help on how to get it off?

It’s possible that you may have something called acanthosis nigricans. Acanthosis nigricans (AN) is when the skin on some parts of the body is darker and thicker than other skin. AN has nothing to do with being dirty, and won’t go away with bathing or scrubbing.

Lots of people who get AN don’t have any other health issues. But it can be a sign that someone may be at risk for other medical conditions (like diabetes). Or it can show up because of medicine someone is taking. So it’s a good idea to get checked out by a doctor.

If it turns out you do have AN, try not to freak out. AN is not a problem on its own, and it’s not contagious. In fact, if AN isn’t connected to a medical problem, there’s no need to treat it.

If you’re not happy about how AN looks, ask your doctor or a dermatologist if there’s something you can do. Your doctor may prescribe lotions, creams, or possibly a medicine called isotretinoin.

Exercise is one thing that sometimes works to prevent or treat AN. Staying physically active, eating well, and maintaining a healthy weight can all help with AN.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: May 2014

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.