Here's How to Handle Any Underarm Concern, From Bumps to Dark Spots
Whether you're bathing-suit-clad at the beach, rocking a sleeveless number at work, or raising the roof for an at-home dance-off, the state of your underarms matters — and is often overlooked. There are tons of all-too-common concerns when it comes to underarms, including irritation, dark spots, and ingrown hairs. The armpits contain more than 20 lymph nodes, which are part of the body's infection-fighting system — meaning your underarms are worth paying attention to.
We spoke to board-certified dermatologist Arash Akhavan, MD, FAAD, to help you get your armpit area in tiptop shape. Keep reading for his tips and advice for solving common underarm issues.
What Causes Underarm Hyperpigmentation?
"There are many reasons why you might see dark spots on your underarm skin, but that hyperpigmentation typically is the result of excessive friction," Dr. Akhavan says. "This friction increases irritation and, thus, the production of melanin." He explains that shaving, sweating, and product build-up from deodorants can cause irritation, which initiates an inflammatory response in the skin that results in hyperpigmentation.
How to Prevent Underarm Hyperpigmentation
"The best way to both treat and prevent this issue is laser hair removal, because it inhibits hair growth and targets existing dark spots," Dr. Akhavan says. Other preventative measures include being gentler on your underarms, using soaps and deodorants with fewer harsh ingredients, and making sure you thoroughly wash off your deodorant before applying more. The underarm inevitably experiences constant friction, but deodorants with moisturizing ingredients, such as Dove Even Tone 48-Hour Antiperspirant and Deodorant Stick ($8), will keep the skin softer, resulting in less irritation.
How to Treat Underarm Hyperpigmentation
Just like on your face, the main way to combat dark spots in your armpits is by exfoliating three times a week using products that contain lightening active ingredients, such as lactic acid, glycolic acid, licorice root, or alpha arbutin, Dr. Akhavan says. A two-in-one product like Glytone Exfoliating Body Wash ($33) works double duty. "In more severe cases, a series of professional chemical peels can also help treat the hyperpigmentation and speed up the lightening and healing process," Dr. Akhavan says.
What Causes Ingrown Hairs?
An ingrown hair is a hair that grows back into the skin, resulting in inflammation and bumps. It's typically the result of hair removal — shaving, waxing, or tweezing. Those with curly or coarse hair can be more prone to getting them, and shaving incorrectly could also be a part of the problem. Using a sharp blade, not shaving too close to the skin, pulling skin taut as you shave, and going upward from the bottom of the underarms can all make a difference.
How to Prevent and Treat Ingrown Hairs
Dr. Akhavan's ingrown-elimination plan: "Use a new razor blade every time you shave, exfoliate the area before shaving, and moisturize after shaving. Waxing is another alternative to shaving, which can decrease the amount of bumps and ingrowns, because the hair is being removed at the root of the follicle instead of just shaven at the surface." However, this won't make you immune to bumps. Before waxing or shaving and in between hair removal, use an exfoliating product like Fur Ingrown Eliminator Serum ($36). Right after shaving or waxing, use a soothing, moisturizing product like Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream ($18).
What Causes Razor Burn?
Razor burn might sound scary, but it's really just irritation from shaving. Using a razor on dry skin (hey, we've all done it), skipping skin-lubricating shaving cream, pressing skin too hard, and using a razor with a dull blade can all contribute to to the issue.
How to Prevent and Treat Razor Burn
Dr. Akhavan's treatment strategy for razor burn is similar to his strategy for ingrown hairs: regular exfoliation, keeping the area moisturized, and using a sharp razor blade. A razor like Schick Hydro Silk Sensitive Care Razor ($14) has five blades to smooth skin and a strip with moisturizing serum to kick off your hydration efforts (you still need to apply lotion or cream post-shave). Make sure skin is wet before you start, use a shaving cream like Gillette Satin Care Ultra Sensitive Shave Gel ($3) so the razor has better glide, and try not to go over the same area over and over. In addition, not applying deodorant or antiperspirant immediately after shaving can prevent irritation or tingling.
What Causes Body Odor?
"Body odor is caused by bacteria on our skin coming in contact with sweat from our apocrine glands, which are found in areas of our body such as the armpits and groin," Dr. Akhavan explains.
How to Prevent Body Odor
Finding a good deodorant with antiperspirant that works with your body chemistry — we like Secret Clinical Strength Completely Clean Invisible Solid Antiperspirant & Deodorant ($12) — is the first step to avoiding body odor, along with showering frequently, Dr. Akhavan says. Staying well hydrated helps flush out the toxins that can cause body odor when sweating. "Ways to control sweating include managing stress and avoiding spicy or pungent foods and high amounts of sodium," Dr. Akhavan says. "Onions, garlic, cauliflower, and salt-dense dishes tend to cause more sweating and body odor than other foods."