Ever feel embarrassed to wear tank tops or raise your arms because it looks like a dark shadow has been cast over your armpits and it won’t go away? Turns out this kind of discoloration is more common than you think. Here’s why.
One explanation for this is that your skin is irritated from shaving and using deodorant. Shaving with a razor blade and/or using deodorants that contain certain ingredients, like alcohol or fragrance, can be extremely irritating to skin. “When skin is irritated, an inflammatory reaction ensues, which stimulates pigment-making cells (melanocytes) to generate more pigment, causing the skin become darker,” says Baton Rouge, LA, dermatologist Ann C. Zedlitz, MD. “We call this discoloration PIH, or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.”
Another reason it could be happening is that it’s a sign of early diabetes or insulin resistance. Darkened armpits can also be the result of a medical condition called acanthosis nigricans, which affects skin pigment and is often related to insulin resistance and diabetes. “The abnormal metabolism of those with diabetes or pre-diabetes may trigger a thickening of the skin and a consequent darkening effect,” says Alpharetta, GA dermatologist Chynna Steele, MD. “We see it most in the neck, armpits and groin.”
So how can you treat it? One of these options will most likely be your best bet.
Opt for laser hair removal instead of shaving.
To avoid the inflammation brought on by shaving, Dr. Steele recommends laser hair removal. “The less friction the better. Laser hair removal minimizes repetitive friction to the area, and you don’t have to do it as often.” But, if you must shave, always use shaving cream. “This will reduce the irritation to your skin and make discoloration less likely or severe.” We like Whish Shave Cream ($16), which is super creamy and formulated with organic ingredients that leave your underarms soft and moisturized.
Swap out your deodorant.
Some deodorants may contain ingredients like alcohol, fragrance and antiperspirants such as aluminum chloride that cause irritation, which can lead to discoloration. “If a product makes your skin itch, sting or burn, you should switch to something that’s made for sensitive skin and formulated without any of those ingredients,” says Dr. Steele. Some deodorants like Dove Advanced Care Clear Tone Skin Renew Antiperspirant/Deodorant ($5) and VMV Hypoallergenics Essence Skin-Saving Antiperspirant ($20) even deliver skin-lightening benefits with continued use.
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Apply a skin-lightening product.
For minor cases of discoloration, products with ingredients that work to lighten dark areas on your armpits (the same way they do on your face), such as kojic acid, hydroquinone (4–12 percent), licorice root extract and some forms of vitamin C, can help. “These ingredients block the production of melanin from different angles,” says Dr. Zedlitz.
Visit a dermatologist.
If the problem persists and you’re finding that your skin isn’t lightening up enough, make an appointment with a dermatologist who can suggest more powerful in-office treatments. “Microneedling with kojic acid may help because it delivers the acid deeper into the skin. Typically, three treatments spread out over six weeks are needed to see results,” says Dr. Zedlitz. “A light chemical peel with 10 percent salicylic acid is another good option.”
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