What’s that dark ring around my neck?

Have you ever noticed a dark ring around your neck (or someone else’s)? It’s most likely not a hygienic issue, and no amount of scrubbing will remove it.

First the bad news:

The condition of skin darkening and thickening in areas where skin rubs together and creases is called acanthosis nigricans. The most common places it is often observed are around the base of the neck, groin and armpits.

Typically, acanthosis nigricans is caused by a condition called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is the underlying condition leading to the development of type II diabetes. When the body’s cells are resistant to insulin, meaning they don’t take up sugar (glucose) well under the direction of insulin, too much sugar remains in the blood stream.

When the pancreas goes into overdrive producing insulin in an effort to lower elevated blood sugar levels, the excess insulin can start binding skin cells leading to thickening and increased melanin production (melanin is what gives skin its color and the more produced, the darker the skin becomes).

Why does insulin do this? Because it is similar in structure to other growth factors that normally bind skin cells, and when it is in a high enough concentration it can affect the same target cells.

So the darkening and thickening of the skin is usually not purely a cosmetic issue. It could very well be a sign that type II diabetes is knocking at the door. And even though type II diabetes may not sound that bad, it’s responsible for some of the most undue pain and suffering in the forms of severe heart disease, neurological damage, and kidney disease.

Now the good news:

Very rarely, acanthosis nigricans can be a warning sign of something like a cancerous tumor that hyper-secretes insulin. Because it is usually due to insulin resistance, just like insulin resistance, it is reversible.

Acanthosis nigricans can clear up. I can vouch for this because I used to have these dark patches, severely so, and when I lost weight and got my blood sugar and A1C into the normal range, the dark ring around my neck began clearing up. It takes time, but it does start to go away.

Below is a picture of how my neck looks today. I used to have a dark ring about an inch wide extending all the way around my neck. Now a small patch is left towards the back and fading. I don’t have any before pictures mainly because I was too ashamed to be in pictures or I wore shirts and sweaters that covered my neck.

What doesn’t go away, unfortunately, is the thickened skin. However, it was really the discoloration that was the main bother for me.

There does seem to be some promise in treating both the thickened skin and discoloration with chemical peels. However there is not enough detailed information on it at this time.

In periods of my life where I put on a bit of weight, I noticed the discoloration appearing again. With the right steps, it faded. There’s no cure for insulin resistance but it can be kept from developing by losing weight, exercising, and focusing on eating a diet rich in whole foods.