Dermatological complications of obesity

Am J Clin Dermatol. 2002;3(7):497-506. doi: 10.2165/00128071-200203070-00006.


Obesity is a health problem of considerable magnitude in the Western world. Dermatological changes have been reported in patients with obesity, including: acanthosis nigricans and skin tags (due to insulin resistance); hyperandrogenism; striae due to over extension; stasis pigmentation due to peripheral vascular disease; lymphedema; pathologies associated with augmented folds; morphologic changes in the foot anatomy due to excess load; and complications that may arise from hospitalization. Acanthosis nigricans plaques can be managed by improved control of hyperinsulinemia; the vitamin D3 analog calcipitriol has also been shown to be effective. Skin tags can be removed by snipping with curved scissors, by cryotherapy or by electrodesiccation. Hyperandrogenism, a result of increased production of endogenous androgens due to increased volumes of adipose tissue (which synthesizes testosterone) and hyperinsulinemia (which increases the production of ovarian androgens) needs to be carefully assessed to ensure disorders such as virilizing tumors and congenital adrenal hyperplasia are treated appropriately. Treatment of hyperandrogenism should be centred on controlling insulin levels; weight loss, oral contraceptive and antiandrogenic therapies are also possible treatment options. The etiology of striae distensae, also known as stretch marks, is yet to be defined and treatment options are unsatisfactory at present; striae rubra and alba have been treated with a pulsed dye laser with marginal success. The relationship between obesity and varicose veins is controversial; symptoms are best prevented by the use of elastic stockings. Itching and inflammation associated with stasis pigmentation, the result of red blood cells escaping into the tissues, can be treated with corticosteroids. Lymphedema is associated with dilatation of tissue channels, reduced tissue oxygenation and provides a culture medium for bacterial growth. Lymphedema treatment is directed towards reducing the limb girth and weight, and the prevention of infection. Intertrigo is caused by friction between skin surfaces, combined with moisture and warmth, resulting in infection. This infection, most commonly candidiasis, is best treated with topical antifungal agents; systemic antifungal therapy may be required in some patients. Excess load on the feet can result in morphological changes that require careful diagnosis; insoles may offer some symptom relief while control of obesity is achieved. Obesity-related dermatoses associated with hospitalization, such as pressure ulcers, diminished wound healing, dermatoses secondary to respiratory conditions, and incontinence, must all be carefully managed with an emphasis on prevention where possible. Recognition and control of the dermatological complications of obesity play an important role in diminishing the morbidity of obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acanthosis Nigricans / etiology
  • Foot Dermatoses / etiology
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Hyperandrogenism / etiology
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology
  • Keratosis / etiology
  • Lymphedema / etiology
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / pathology
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / etiology
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin Diseases / etiology*
  • Skin Diseases / pathology
  • Skin Diseases / therapy*
  • Skin Diseases, Infectious / etiology