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Dark underarms are a common concern these days. It is not only embarrassing but can also be a sign of bad health. Dark underarms are unsightly and make only look unhygienic although dark underarms have nothing to do with cleanliness. In this blog, I have answered some of the most frequently asked questions about ways to improve dark underarms. We will also discuss the causes of dark underarms and ways to prevent dark underarms.
All home remedies for improving the dark underarms may not make a suitable advice from a Dermatologist’s perspective.
Q1) Are dark underarms normal?
The color of skin is determined by two things: the amount of melanin and the distribution of melanin in the epidermis or dermis. If the colour of the underarms matches that of the surrounding skin it is not abnormal. But if the area is darker than normal, it can be called Abnormal pigmentation or discoloration in underarms.
Q2) What causes dark underarms?
Dark underarms can be caused by many reasons which are detailed below-
Acanthosis Nigricans - As most of the millennials now lead an increasing sedentary lifestyle , there has been a rapid increase in the metabolic syndrome. The growing obesity and erratic lifestyle leads to rise in insulin levels to manage the sugar load. This increased insulin levels cause darkening and thickening of the skin. The dark underarms are not only dark but also thickened and corrugated appearance. The dark underarms are also accompanied by dark thighs and dark neck. The patient may also have skin tags and dark underarms along with.
Friction from clothing – Most of the new age clothing is around seamless fit but end up with tight armholes. The friction of the cloth with the underarm skin causes mild inflammation which over a period of time destroys the melanocytes (cells that produce melanin) releasing pigment causing dark underarms. Rubbing of the armhole also causes leaching of the dyes in the clothes. This causes contact dermatitis or allergy which is of very mild nature. Mostly patients even do not realize that mild itching that they feel sometimes can actually cause darkening of the underarms.
Deodorants and antiperspirants - Deodorants are used to mask odour while antiperspirants reduce the amount of sweat produced. Deodorants work by two different mechanisms—antimicrobial agents decrease the number of bacteria that produce odours and fragrances to cover up the odours. The fragrance and parabens also cause mild allergic dermatitis and this leads to dark underarms.
Hair removal – Underarm hair is a menace (Please read more about methods of underarm hair removal in blog) and many methods like shaving, waxing and hair removal creams are used. Most of these methods cause some inflammation in the skin causing pigmentation.
Fungal infection- Due to retention of sweat in the underarm area, there may be overgrowth of certain fungal organisms causing itchy rashes. Fungal infection can leave behind post inflammatory hyperpigmentation causing dark underarms and dark thighs.
Bacterial infection - Erythrasma is caused by overgrowth of Corynebacterium causing black colored patches which are generally not itchy. It can be diagnosed by Wood’s Lamp examination.
Atopic dermatitis- It may also present with dark neck and underarms. There will be associated clinical features suggestive of atopy.
Q3) What are the natural ways to treat dark underarms?
Please follow the following tips for removing dark underarms
Gentle cleansing of the underarms- Avoid scrubbing! Yes you have heard it right! Do not scrub or rigorously exfoliate the under arms with loofah/ brush/ Towel. The pigmentation may become darker on physical exfoliation
Glycolic based body wash- One can use an exfoliating body wash like glycolic acid which is derived from sugarcane juice to cleanse or remove the dead skin.
Apple Cider – many body washes containing apple cider may be helpful to remove dead skin and make underarms brighter.
Reduce weight- Weight reduction may help in improving the insulin resistance and hence the darkening of the under arms.
Improving the nutrition- Vitamins like Vitamin b12 is really helpful in improving the dark underarms if found deficient in blood tests.
Avoid tight clothing especially in the armhole area to prevent irritation and friction.
Avoid clothes containing washable dyes or artificial colors that leach on to the skin.
Avoid antiperspirants and deodorants in the underarm area. Prefer roll on deodorants.
Avoid sweat- One can use antifungal dusting powder to reduce the sweat. Prefer cotton and other breathable fabrics
Avoid waxing and hair removal creams. Application of hot wax can cause mild inflammation leading to dark underarms/ Laser Hair removal is an excellent way to reduce darkness in underarms.
There are no quick 5- minute remedies to make dark underarms normal.
Q4) What are the Dermatologist recommended treatments for dark underarms?
We at Dr. Divya’ Skin and Hair solutions clinic in Bangalore have a few signature treatments to improve dark underarms.
Chemical peels – Glycolic acid in higher strengths can help in exfoliation and reduce the pigment burden in the underarm areas. Gel based preparations are preferable and in expert hands, these procedures are safe. However it should not be done at home as burns if accidentally caused will lead to worsening of the dark underarms.
Laser skin lightening - (Laser Toning) The Q-switched laser helps in dispersal of melanin or pigment from the body making the underarm area lighter and even toned
Laser Hair removal in underarm area- In my practice as a Dermatologist in Bangalore, I have personally seen a reduction in dark underarms with few sessions of hair removal. Laser hair removal helps in reducing the bad odor and microscopic injuries caused by hair removal methods.
Fractional Sublative rejuvenation (FSR)- In patients who have dark underarms and dark neck, Dr. Divya Sharma uses FSR technology to give you lightened skin.
Q5) What are the ingredients one should look for in underarm lightening agents?
Many times I have seen patients using Vaseline , turmeric , toothpaste or even baking soda for dark underarms. Please avoid it as an irritant reaction can actually worsen the dark underarms. One can specifically look for Niacinamide for dark underarms. Agents like Glycolic acid, Mandelic acid are safe. Botulinum toxin can be used to reduce sweating in underarms and hence reducing the usage of deodorants.
It is no longer an embarrassment as dark underarms can be lightened using safe methods. Avoid the triggers and you can achieve the dream of light underarms too.