If your underarms are unusually dark, you mustn’t shrug it off nonchalantly. Discolouration is an indication that something’s not quite right, and you should try to find out what’s causing pigmentation in your underarm area. Is it the way you shave? Are you not using the correct deodorant for your skin? Or is it a manifestation of an underlying medical condition that hasn’t been diagnosed yet? We've roped in Dr. Niketa Sonavane, Celebrity Dermatologist and founder of Ambrosia Aesthetics, Mumbai, to share her insights with us on the subject.
- Why causes underarm darkness?
- How can I remove underarm hair without darkening the area?
- Are there any at-home remedies to counter discolouration?
- Are there any medical treatments for dark underarms?
Why causes underarm darkness?
"Darkening is most common in the armpits, back of the neck, groin area, elbows, and knees," states Dr. Sonavane. According to her, the darker the complexion, the higher the possibility for you to experience underarm discolouration.
There are multiple factors that can darken your underarms. Medical reasons like cancer, diabetes, obesity, melasma (a condition in which brown patches appear on the skin), eczema (an inflammatory skin condition) Addison’s disease (a disorder in which your adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones), erythrasma (a bacterial infection that affects the folds of your skin), abnormal hormonal levels, and smoker’s melanosis might be triggering this darkness, and you must consult a doctor in case you’ve ruled out the following factors.
Sometimes, irritation caused by a deodorant can lead to underarm discolouration instead of rashes. The darker your complexion, the easier it is for the mildest irritation to trigger discolouration. Look for formulas containing skin-soothing ingredients like glycerine instead. Even antiperspirants containing chemical irritants or drying agents can lead to darkness. Dr. Sonavane says, "Deodorants contain parabens, alcohol, and artificial fragrances which can irritate the skin and cause inflammation, resulting in skin thickening and darkening over time. Many antiperspirants contain aluminium as an active ingredient, which clogs sweat ducts and causes dryness and pigmentation."
It’s possible that you’re shaving the wrong way. Discoloration can result from post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation caused by irritation. It’s possible that you’re using a dull razor, going over the same patch too many times, not using shaving cream, scratching or rubbing the area, or shaving in the wrong way. Even excessive shaving can darken the underarms. "If you shave your armpits every day, this is most likely the source of your skin discoloration. Your razor may be irritating your skin, or your hair may be making your skin appear darker. Because shaving only removes surface-level hair, if your hair colour is darker than your skin tone, your skin may appear to have a dark stain, but this is due to the hair beneath the skin's surface," says Dr. Sonavane, "Even hair removal creams lead to darkening."
- Lack of exfoliation
If you haven’t exfoliated your underarms, it’s probable that a build-up of dead cells on the surface of your skin is increasing pigmentation in the area. Adhere to a regular exfoliation process even for your underarms to counter this apparent darkness.
Have you noticed the discolouration after being prescribed a new medicine like insulin, human growth hormone, birth control pills, high-dose niacin or corticosteroids, to name a few? A lot of medications are responsible for underarm darkness; and this change isn’t harmful. Even then, you must consult a professional to ensure that your medication is the cause.
Friction between tight clothing and your underarms can lead to irritation and itchiness, and this just intensifies the darkness. Try wearing loose-fitting comfortable clothes instead of tight body-hugging ones.
How can I remove underarm hair without darkening the area?
One way you can remove hair at home is through shaving. The right way to shave is by softening your skin with lukewarm water, and proceeding to exfoliate the underarms gently. Apply shaving cream/gel all over the area before you start in order to moisturise and soften the skin, and apply generous amounts of lotion after you’re done to keep your skin soft, supple, and hydrated. Make sure you’re using a sharp, new, and clean razor to prevent unnecessary darkening and ingrowth. You must follow these tips to prevent any kind of discoloration from surfacing. Dr. Sonavane says, "If you only have skin darkening and no other changes, it is most likely post-inflammatory pigmentation. You can typically improve the skin by avoiding trauma, shaving more gently, and using lightening creams containing kojic acid, licorice root extract, or even gentle exfoliative agents containing low concentrations of glycolic acid."
Are there any at-home remedies to counter discolouration?
- Baking soda
Baking soda is an excellent lightening agent that eliminates discolouration, and unclogs your pores. All you have to do is mix a little bit of baking soda with water to form a thick paste, and apply the resulting concoction to your underarms twice or thrice a week. You can throw in a lemon - a natural bleaching agent laden with antiseptic properties - into the mix as well, and scrub the paste over your underarms for about five minutes before washing it off with lukewarm water. Don’t forget to moisturise your skin after.
- Coconut oil
Coconut oil is a natural lightening agent as well. Just massage your underarms with a little bit of the oil, and wash it off with lukewarm water after fifteen minutes of application. Continue doing this, and you’ll notice a change soon.
- Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar can exfoliate your skin, unclog pores, lessen the appearance of scars, and reduce darkness if applied consistently. You can mix two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with two tablespoons of baking soda, and apply the mixture to your underarms for about five minutes, and rinse it off with cold water.
- Olive oil
Mix one tablespoon of olive oil with one tablespoon of sugar to prepare a homemade scrub for yourself - sugar is a natural exfoliator while olive oil is a nourishing ingredient that moisturises the skin.
Cucumbers are natural lightening agents that reduce darkness if applied to the underarms consistently. Just rub a few slices of the vegetable on your skin for about a minute or two, and let its juice on the skin for ten minutes before washing it off.
As mentioned earlier, lemons are natural bleaching agents that can lighten darker regions of the body. Just rub it over your skin for two or three minutes before bathing.
Apart from reducing the appearance of dark circles, potatoes can remove discolouration and pigmentation in the underarms as well. Just grate a potato, collect a little bit of its juice, and apply it to your underarms for fifteen minutes. You can also rub a few slices on your underarms instead. Keep repeating until you see results.
- Aloe vera
Aloe vera’s antibacterial properties help lighten underarms and soothe inflammation. Just scoop a dollop of the gel, and smear it all over your underarms. Let it sit for fifteen minutes before washing it off.
Prepare a mask with yoghurt, turmeric, besan, and lemon juice, and apply it to your underarms for about twenty minutes before washing it off. Repeat the process until you see results.
Turmeric isn’t just excellent at lightening underarms. It offers relief from itching too. Just apply some, and witness how it brightens the area over a period of time.
Are there any medical treatments for dark underarms?
Apart from concocting homemade formulas at home, you can try medical treatments if the darkness won’t go away. A few of them include:
A topical application of lightening creams containing ingredients such as arbutin, kojic acid, niacinamide, vitamin C, hydroquinone, azelaic acid, retinoids, or glycolic acid can reduce discolouration of the underarms, Because the skin under your arms is sensitive, you don't want to use harsh ingredients.
Even peels enriched with retinol, lactic acid, glycolic acid, and ingredients similar to these can exfoliate, rejuvenate, and repair the skin, slough off the build-up of dead cells on the surface to reveal brighter, healthier skin, and promote the appearance of soft, smooth skin. "Peels containing phenol and trichloroacetic acid (TCA), too, can aid in skin exfoliation. This procedure aids in the removal of thicker, damaged skin, revealing new, smooth skin," shares Dr. Sonavane.
Microneedling is a process that involves the insertion of tiny needles to puncture the skin in an attempt to treat various conditions like wrinkles, scarring, acne, and loose skin. It’s known to counter hyperpigmentation as well - and it does this by stimulating collagen production and promoting an even skin tone. And it’s the perfect middle ground between topical treatments and laser therapy.
Dr. Sonavabe says, "Laser hair removal with triple wavelength diode technology can not only get rid of underarm hair permanently, but it can also reduce pigmentation associated with shaving and waxing. This treatment may also reduce underarm pore size and sweating, allowing you to use milder deodorants. As the hair thins out, it also reduces the shadow cast by the under-skin part of the hair shaft."
Pigmentation laser treatment
Low-Fluence Nd:YAG 1064 nm laser or Q-Switched laser treatment improves the appearance of pigmented underarms. This non-invasive treatment produces visible results in a few sessions with minimal downtime and discomfort.
1) Can toothpaste lighten underarms?
A toothpaste has bleaching properties that can lighten your underarms; but make sure you’re not using coloured variations because they contain chemicals that can irritate your skin. An effective toothpaste-based remedy involves mixing four teaspoons of lemon juice with your standard toothpaste, and applying the mixture to your underarms for about 5 to 7 minutes before washing it off with a cleanser. You can also combine a one tablespoon of baking soda with two teaspoons of water with toothpaste. Before you apply the paste to your underarms, just rub one-half of the lemon all over, and proceed to massage your underarms with the mix for about 5 minutes before rinsing it off with a cleanser. Don’t forget to moisturise after!
2) Does plucking your underarms make them darker?
You will not notice darkening as much as you will notice the development of ingrowth, inflammation, scars, and irritation in the areas you’ve plucked or tweezed your hair - and, yes, all of these factors do lead to discoloration. If you’re not investing in an appropriate tweezer or going over the same area more than once, you can scrape your skin. This might result in scarring and scabs. And this doesn’t just harm the skin, but also disrupts the appearance of your underarms. One of the upsides of plucking is the rate at which the hair grows back - it’s slower than if you were to shave your underarms.
3) Can coconut oil remove dark underarms?
It’s a natural remedy that can lighten the appearance of dark underarms through its lightening agents. Just massage your underarms with the oil, let it sit for about fifteen minutes, and wash it off with lukewarm water. Commit to a consistent application of the oil to see results. Coconut oil moisturises the skin, protects you against irritation, acts as a barrier against bacteria build-up, and works like a deodorant by eliminating odour-causing bacteria as well - are you sold yet?
Written by Urvi Shah on Feb 24, 2022
A professional writer by day, and a poet by night, I'm a journalism graduate with experience in the news, travel, and food sectors. A frantic compiler of excerpts from books I've read, you can count on me to incorporate quotes and phrases into everyday conversations without a warning. On days I'm not working, I station myself in front of my laptop, and try to work my way through month-old drafts of my writings.