4 Causes of Dark Underarms and How to Get Rid of Them

Feeling embarrassed about your dark underarms? You are not alone. There are many women (and men) who are facing this condition. Although they are not a sign of anything serious going wrong with your health, we understand that it can be embarrassing, especially if you are wearing certain types of clothing such as sleeveless tops and swimsuits.

If you are wondering what causes these dark patches, there are actually 4 main causes:

  • Acanthosis Nigricans
  • Hair removal techniques like shaving and waxing
  • Bacterial infection
  • Deodorants and antiperspirants

Most common of the lot will be a skin condition called acanthosis nigricans(AN). It is a type of skin condition whereby the epidermis (topmost layer) becomes dull and thicken in folds at various parts of the body. Some of the most common areas that are susceptible to this condition are the back of the neck, elbows, groin, armpits and knees.


What are the Risk Factors of AN?

The likelihood of developing this condition can be attributed to factors such as:

  • Family History
  • Race
  • Health
  • Diabetes
  • Insulin Resistance

The condition is frequently found in people with insulin disorders; in fact, it has been found that diabetes and insulin resistance are the two major causes of AN.

Additionally, studies have also found that individuals with pituitary problems, Addison disease, hypothyroidism and people who are undergoing growth hormone therapy are at risk of developing this condition.

The consumption of birth control pills and cholesterol medication containing nicotinic acid can also greatly increase the risk of AN. Usually, your skin colour is determined by the pigment cells in your skin called melanocytes. Once these pigment cells start to multiply, they cause the epidermis to turn a darker shade. Even though anyone can develop AN, there are some people who might be more susceptible to the condition, especially if it is genetically inherited.


The Other Factors That Causes Dark Underarms

However, acanthosis nigricans (AN) is not the only cause of discolouration. There are a handful of other factors that cause dark armpits. Some of these include several methods of hair removal such as shaving and waxing,  bacterial infection and the use of antiperspirants and deodorants.

1. Shaving

We understand the need to go bare, especially for the ladies, but shaving your armpits, in the long run, can eventually lead to armpits that are discoloured. You might be aware that shaving essentially cuts the hairs on the surface of the skin, providing a smoother and hairless surface. However, if you have hair that is darker than the colour of your epidermis, the stubble might present itself as a dark stain.

2. Waxing

Waxing your armpits will give you considerably better results compared to shaving, since it removes hairs below the skin’s surface and reduce the overall visibility of the hairs. Doing this will also delay the growth of the hair, leaving your skin smoother and hairless for longer periods at a time. However, waxing your underarms regularly can cause your armpits to darken as well, especially if you are prone to ingrown hairs. Additionally, if you are the type of person who has thick and coarse hair, this can undoubtedly lead to trauma and inflammation through ingrown hairs. Thick and dark hairs can lead to armpits that are darker in appearance, even before these hairs grow and penetrate the surface of the skin.

Consider Going For Laser Hair Removal Treatment

The best solution to tackle the hair removal techniques, that will cause your underarms to darken, will be to undergo a laser hair removal treatment. This procedure will essentially cause hair to grow finer, which in turn, will lead to fewer ingrown hairs. Ultimately, this means less shaving in the future! With less ingrown hairs and less instances of you shaving, these factors will play key roles in combating and preventing hyperpigmentation. On a separate note, less ingrown hairs and finer hair means fewer chances of bacterial infections that might worsen your skin condition. Since underarm hair traps sweat, oil and bacteria, the lack of will essentially work to keep your armpits dryer and cleaner. However, do note that you still might need to wear natural antiperspirants to combat excessive sweating.

3. Bacterial Infection

Discoloured armpits can also be a result of a bacterial infection known as erythrasma. This infection typically appears as pink patches on the epidermis before turning into brown scales. The condition is more common in individuals suffering from diabetes mellitus. Additionally, it’s been found that this bacterial infection affects more individuals living in warm climates as opposed to people living in colder countries. For instance, if you live in Singapore, the humidity and heat can play a major factor in increasing the likelihood of bacterial infections.

Rid This Possibility by Keeping Your Underarms Dry

Ensure that you have dried your armpits completely after getting out of the shower to prevent bacteria buildup. If possible, try to keep yourself as dry as possible, especially your underarms.  Although it may be harder said than done spending less time outside, especially on extremely hot and humid days will greatly reduce the chances of you sweating excessively. At the same time, you could also consider bringing an extra shirt to change into when you do find yourself perspiring too much. Additionally, when changing into clothes, make sure that the aforementioned clothes are completely clean and dry. You may also consider using antibacterial soap daily to prevent the recurrence of bacterial infections. It goes without saying that your diet plays a vital role in keeping your body healthy and in peak condition.

4. Deodorants and Antiperspirants

Unfortunately, there are many harmful ingredients present in antiperspirant and deodorant products. The chemicals and other by-products could potentially react unfavourably with the skin of an individual, this, in turn, can lead to underarm darkening or discolouration. If you suspect that the brand of antiperspirant that you are using is the reason behind the dark underarms, switching deodorants might be helpful. At the same time, it would be good practice to read the list of ingredients before investing money on a particular brand of antiperspirants or deodorants.

Read the Labels of the Products Carefully

Avoid using strong deodorants and antiperspirants on your armpits. If you are purchasing or trying out a new brand, be sure to read the ingredients list beforehand. To be practice extra caution, test the new deodorant or antiperspirant on your skin and wait to see if you have any allergic reactions to the substance. Additionally, if you have a pre-existing skin condition, try using a product that contains more natural ingredients.


Treating Dark Underarms

Treating discoloured underarms is possible and can be made effortless. Even with years of living with dark underarms, with the help of IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) and other (clinical) treatments, you can achieve fairer looking armpits effortlessly in no time.

1. Medical-Strength Peels

Although you can easily get your hands on some home-made peels to do it yourself in the comfort of your bathroom, aesthetic clinics have medical-strength peels that are much stronger than regular ones. This essentially means that the industrial-strength peels promised better results for treating and combating the pigmentation issues. Medical-strength peels penetrate the skin deeper than regular peels, hence, this makes them much more effective at restoring the natural tone and texture of your armpit. Apart from treating underarm hyperpigmentation, these peels also work to remedy other problems including melasma, wrinkles, scarring and sun damage. However, using medical-strength peels means that your skin requires longer recovery time. On top of that, skin treated with these solutions often require pre- and post-peel topical treatments to ensure that skin heals faster from the treatment. Thus, before undergoing such a treatment, it is advised that you consult your dermatologist to find out which kind of peel will be best suited for your skin. This also goes for DIY peels which you might end up doing more harm than good for your skin.

2. Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)

Another method will be to lend the hand of a technology called the Intense Pulsed Light ( IPL). IPL is a popular cosmetic procedure that you may want to consider to get rid of discoloured underarms. The IPL device used for treating pigmentation is considered to be one of the most progressive technologies out there today. In fact, the cell-toning technology utilises pulse duration in micro second to address pigmentation. The repeated micro-lights delivered via cell-toning pulse work to specifically target the surrounding areas as opposed to the melanin. Ultimately, this action increases the temperature of the melanin and destroys it, rendering skin free from pigmentation. However, do expect some downtime from the treatment. This therapy is even versatile enough to combat spots, wrinkles and even unwanted hair on your back, chest, armpits, legs, bikini line, and neck. At the same time, you can utilise IPL to diminish the appearance or sun damage, freckles, birthmarks, age spots, rosacea, and birthmarks too.


How Does IPL Work?

Step 1: Pigment cells in your epidermis absorb the light energy that is emitted from the applicator of the IPL device

Step 2: The light energy is then converted into heat energy, which then destroys the unwanted and unsightly pigment on the epidermis

Step 3: Depending on your expected goal of using the technology to achieve, the treatment can also be utilised to destroy hair follicles, so that hair can be prevented from growing back

IPL can be used anywhere on the body, however, it is important to note that it might not work well on uneven area. Also, though this wonderful treatment is suitable for all skin types, it is important to note that people who are susceptible to thick, raised keloid scars and/or have darker skin tones are do not make great candidates for the intense pulsed light procedure. With that said, people with eczema or inflammatory acne issues should avoid IPL treatment as it may exacerbate the condition and cause flare-ups.


Difference Between IPL and Laser Treatment

There are many people out there who are not aware of the difference between IPL and laser treatment. Although IPL is somewhat similar to laser treatment, the difference lies in the fact that a laser has the ability to only focus on just one wavelength of light on the epidermis.

In comparison, IPL releases light like a photo flash, in different wavelengths. Additionally, the light emitted from the IPL is much more scattered and tends to be less focused than a laser. With that said, IPL has a way of penetrating deep into the second layer of the skin, also known as the dermis, without causing any harm to the top layer of the skin (the epidermis).


Post Skin Care Routine

Taking care of your skin post-treatment is as crucial as pre-treatment. After your IPL sessions, there are several things you can do to maintain the results and prevent the recurrence of pigmentation or dark armpits.

  • Ensure that you are wearing clothes that can offer you proper sun protection
  • Limit the number of times you shave your pits or wax them to prevent the resurfacing of hyperpigmentation woes
  • Keep your pits dry and clean to prevent bacterial infection that may cause the hyperpigmentation of skin all over again


The Bottom Line

Dark underarm is a benign condition that poses no serious threat to your health. By the means of clinical treatments such as chemical peels or IPL may aid in diminishing the appearance of dark armpits. But do remember that prevention (and maintenance) is better than cure, and you have to play an active role in ensuring that your discoloured underarms do not return. Pre and post care is crucial for keeping your underarms clean, radiant and healthy. Take note that there are more ways than one to get dark pits, factors such as diet, hormones and even genetics can contribute to dark underarms.

It is best to do more research to find out more about the available treatments that will fit the bill for your condition. Alternatively, you may like to consult a medical professional if you are unsure about your condition and also the effects the best treatment for you. In addition to medical treatments, it is also wise to take preventive measures to keep your skin healthy.