The major causes of dark armpits and how to treat them
Sunshine is in sight and since the holidays are no longer a dream, it’s time to pay attention to the skin areas that were covered for far too long.
The way we care for our armpits, however, isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some people choose to embrace their hair, while others never miss a laser appointment. There’s also a difference in the way women approach hyperpigmentation, or darkened skin, under their arms. This natural (and very common) occurrence can leave some unbothered, while others are looking for a way to even out the skin in that area.
If you want to brighten the area, which is your personal choice, experts say it’s important to determine the cause in order to provide the correct solution.
But what causes the discoloration in the first place, and how do we treat them? Of course, on top of genetics, pregnancy, and underlying health conditions, there are a few external factors that come into play here. To guide us, Manila Bulletin Lifestyle asked two dermatologists to throw some light on the subject.
Dry shaving and waxing
Hands up—who moisturizes their armpits? If any body part is crying out for a little TLC, it’s the humble armpit—that poor, neglected patch of skin raked with a razor or scalded with wax.
“Shaving, especially on dry skin or with a dull blade, can cause the skin to darken and thicken over time,” says Dr. Sharmaine Ivy Sun, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist from Chinese General Hospital. “Waxing is also a form of trauma. Both help to get rid of the hair, but incite some damage to the surrounding skin.”
The fix: Shaving and waxing are only temporary forms of hair removal—a better option is to go for laser hair reduction. It’s much less traumatic, and it helps to grow finer hair.
The doctor says topical whitening creams or gels may be used once the hair is already reduced and if there is pigmentation left. “But remember, these products should only be used under the supervision of a board-certified dermatologist,” says Sun. “If topicals are not helpful with reducing pigmentation, then one can have a laser treatment.”
Harsh chemicals in your deodorant might produce a reaction on your skin that causes it to darken. You could be allergic to that certain ingredient, which may cause it to get irritated.
The fix: Naturally, the trick here is to avoid fragrance and alcohol in the underarm region. Try switching to a gentler one, preferably made with natural ingredients. You may also let go of your deodorant if you don’t need it, says board-certified dermatologist and Dare clinic’s owner Dr. Jean Marquez.
“When it comes to preventative measures, it’s all about avoiding irritation. It’s important to treat the skin under your arms the way you treat the skin on your face,” she says.
To eliminate the smell of sweat, Marquez recommends patting baking soda onto your armpits to make sweat less acidic. She also suggests gently massaging aloe vera extracts onto your underarms—letting it dry for 20 minutes and then rinsing it off with water—to soothe and lighten the skin.
Constant rubbing against rough fabrics (like wools) leads to inflammation and brown or grayish patches. Wearing tight tops made with synthetic materials that don’t allow the skin to breathe can darken armpits, too.
The fix: Whenever there’s friction on the skin, the skin responds by becoming thicker, and thicker skin is often a little bit darker or hyperpigmented.
Switch to loose, soft clothing made with natural fibers like cotton, and slip on a tee before wearing a sweater.
Dead skin build-up
Often, there is a buildup of product (deodorant residue) and dead skin in our underarms, which contribute to darkened skin in the area.
The fix: Exfoliate skin regularly to unclog pores, but stay away from harsh, in-store scrubs that have sharp-edged particles, which could cause micro-abrasions, says Marquez.
“Use only mild and moisturizing body soaps, and not whitening soaps, peeling soaps, and scrubs,” she says.
If possible, avoid active ingredients such as tretinoin, retinol, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid, which can irritate sensitive skin. Instead, she suggests finding ones that have mild whitening ingredients like arbutin, niacinamide, and tranexamic acid.