Your underarms probably need more TLC than usual at the moment, especially with all of the sleeveless tops and swimsuits that are still to be worn. But while you might opt to double down on deodorants, antiperspirants, shaving, and wax appointments, you may have noticed a little bit of discoloration underneath your arms. And if it's something that bothers you, a skincare routine for your underarms can help get that area back to its even and toned glory.
“When underarm skin gets repeatedly irritated and inflamed, it can thicken and look darker both from the buildup of skin cells and from pigmentation stimulated by inflammation,” Dr. Heidi Waldorf, MD of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics says. Aside from irritation and inflammation, which is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, you could also be experiencing acanthosis nigricans. Dr. Waldorf notes that with this condition, visibly thickened and darkened skin occurs in multiple body skin folds which can include the underarms, neck, and groin. "That’s important to rule out because it can be associated with systemic conditions like diabetes,” she says.
Another common assumption is that lightening is caused by certain ingredients in antiperspirant and deodorant. "In theory, some ingredients may have an interaction with the individual’s skin chemistry, causing the skin to darken,” cosmetic chemist Valerie George notes. "But it’s highly unlikely this is the case." Deodorants are highly fragranced, which can cause sensitivity in certain individuals, but it’s unlikely the culprit of darkening underarms, she clarifies.
An allergic reaction to your deodorant could also be the culprit of the discoloration too, Dr. Lily Talakoub, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist, tells TZR. “If you have an allergy to a deodorant and the area gets red and inflamed, a dark patch may result from that,” she says. And layering on product after shaving this could also make the irritation worse. To cut down on the inflammation, Dr. Talakoub recommends washing with a gentle cleanser and shaving with a gliding oil — not a foaming or lathering shaving gel or lathering soap.
To rectify the discoloration, many customers opt for lightening products that typically contain bleach. But Dr. Waldorf notes that this might not be the best approach. “Most of the ingredients used to lighten and exfoliate the skin are too harsh for the underarms," she says. "The key is to avoid the things that make it worse.” She recommends washing with non-drying, replenishing cleansers and using moisturizing products with protecting ingredients like glycerin and dimethicone.
If you do use a lightener, be very careful as most creams aren't made to be applied under the arms, Dr. Talakoub warns. Start by using the product every other day to see how your skin reacts, she suggests. "If the skin gets irritated or red, you have to stop and only use it once a week. Irritated skin can worsen the darkness."
Even though there's no quick fix for evening out the tone in your underarms, ahead, see products that will help according to derms.