This Is Why the Skin on Your Knees and Elbows Is Darker Than the Rest of Your Body

Updated: Aug. 11, 2017

Why is the skin on your elbows and knees darker than the rest of your body? And what can you do about it? A dermatologist weighs in.

Dirima/ShutterstockPity the skin on your elbows and knees—it takes a beating. It’s probably not your number one skin concern, and it’s not the first thing your dermatologist will notice about you. But you know you’re neglecting it, especially in winter when you don’t have to see it all the time. “Patients complain to me about the skin on their elbows and knees all the time,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a dermatologist and director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “Particularly about how it’s darker than the rest of their skin.” Yeah—what about that? Why are those areas so much darker and rough?

Dr. Zeichner explains that the skin on the elbows and knees is subject to chronic stretching from bending and rubbing against clothes and furniture. All that friction inflames the skin, and it literally grows thicker to protect itself—and that’s why it looks darker.

The skin on the elbows and knees also tends to be dryer than skin on the rest of the body, which makes it even more susceptible to inflammation, redness, and peeling. The elbows and knees are also where psoriasis—an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own skin cells—tends to show up first, and it can lead to thick, red, scaly buildup.

“If you suffer from dry, dark patches on the elbows and knees, make sure to regularly moisturize to help keep the skin barrier in as good shape as possible, Dr. Zeichner advises. “Ingredients like petrolatum form a protective seal over the skin and help the skin maintain adequate hydration. The newest generation of skincare products offer high quality skin hydration with easy spreadability—they’re not greasy or heavy.”

Dr. Zeichner notes that patients with darker skin may have even bigger coloration issues with the patches on knees and elbows, although not necessarily with skin roughness. This is because patients with darker skin tend to produce more pigment in general.

Here are some really useful skin-care tips that dermatologists actually use themselves.