If you’ve ever felt a little nervous about baring underarms during tank top season, you’re not the only one. Hyperpigmentation or darkness of the underarms may not be as obvious as a zit on your chin, but we get that it can still wrack up nerves. Not everyone will look as smooth and even-toned as a Venus commercial. “It’s quite common to have discoloration in the underarms, it can be due to a variety of factors,” says Dr. Kavita Mariwalla, a dermatologist based in N.Y. You could have sensitive skin that’s more prone to irritation and hyperpigmentation, or it could boil down to genetics. First, you want to make sure you see your doctor to rule out any underlying health issues. “Insulin resistance can show up as dark velvety patches on certain body areas,” says Mariwalla. Most likely, it can be an effect of irritation. Here are some things to consider.
Meet the Experts
Dr. Kavita Mariwalla is a dermatologist based in N.Y.
Switch up your deodorant
The skin under your arms is very thin. And, because of the way it naturally folds into itself, the skincare products you put on in that area can easily absorb making it vital to be careful about using harsh ingredients that could exacerbate underarm irritation. “Certain deodorants can be aggravating and cause pigmentation of the skin,” says Mariwalla. Try switching deodorant and see if that may be helpful but know that it may take a few trials since it can be very ingredient-specific to your skin. “Even essential oils and baking soda can bother some people,” says Mariwalla. Baking soda is especially a common ingredient in natural deodorants, which has been thought to create hyperpigmentation in some, even without a rash. She suggests looking for ingredients to help soothe skin, like chamomile found in this Dove formula.)
Consider your hair removal method
Chronic irritation like shaving frequently can show up as hyperpigmentation, says N.Y.C. dermatologist Sejal Shah. We get it, it may not be easy to go au naturel, especially in the summer. That said, try to make sure you use a sharp blade and switch out your blades after every few shaves. “For many people, shaving often can cause microscopic abrasions in that area,” says Mariwalla. A dull blade can be rougher on the skin than a sharp blade. If it’s in the budget, “long-term hair removal might help the area look brighter since you’re not constantly shaving,” says Mariwalla. Laser treatment or waxing may help prolong hair removal sessions or nix them completely over time.
If you’ve seen too many TikTok videos on DIY remedies on using acids to brighten up, think twice. “Your underarms have a balance of bacteria and a special microbiome; you can alter that pH by using acids,” says Mariwalla. Any acid can help brighten the underarm through chemical exfoliation, but if you keep doing it over time, it can disrupt your pH balance, says Mariwalla. Her suggestion? Keep exfoliation of the underarm to once every two weeks, tops. Also, don’t try to scrub away your discoloration. Physical pressure and scrubbing will not treat hyperpigmentation. TBH, it’s more likely to cause irritation and worsen the problem. Look for more gentle ingredients to address the discoloration. “Try niacinamide or tretinoin; it won’t change the pH; it only addresses the excess pigmentation,” says Mariwalla. On exfoliation days, Sunday Riley Charcoal Smoothie Jelly Body Scrub is a gentle mix of niacinamide, salicylic acid, and charcoal to help even out skin tone and texture.
Use a broad spectrum SPF — and reapply often
Even if you’re super diligent about applying sunscreen, many of us forget to apply SPF to the less obvious spots of our body like our underarms. Your armpits are also prone to moisture and sweat in the summer, so it’s even more important to remember to reapply sunscreen to this area so that your underarm skin isn’t more susceptible to hyperpigmentation from UV rays. Sunday Riley Light Hearted Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen is a velvety formula that sinks into your skin without leaving behind a weird residue.
That all said, dark underarms or not, feel confident in wearing whatever you want to wear this summer and know that this is a super common, harmless issue.
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