Updated 07 August 2014

How to lighten dark armpits

Daily shaving, waxing and deodorant use can irritate the sensitive skin of the armpits and even lead to dark discolouration of the skin. Here’s how to get rid avoid discolouration, itchiness and irritation.

The skin in the armpit is very sensitive and can be easily irritated by the continuous use of deodorants, waxing or shaving. These can all lead to discolouration of the skin in the armpits.

Avoiding skin irritants such as deodorants, antiperspirants, shaving, plucking and waxing, will all help prevent underarm skin discoloration. However, if your armpits are already discoloured, there are some treatments which can help.

Read: How to manage sensitive skin

Causes of armpit skin discolouration

Discolouration of the armpit skin can be caused by a number of things as it is very sensitive skin and can be easily irritated and lose moisture.

Regular shaving, waxing, use of deodorants and harsh products such as antiperspirants can all irritate the skin and in turn stimulate the melanin that causes hyperpigmentation (darkened skin).

Other causes include:

- The growth of dark hair beneath the skin surface
- Dead skin cell build up
- Genetics and medical conditions

Acanthosis nigricans - a skin condition characterised by areas of dark, velvety discoloration in body folds and creases, such as the armpits. It often affects people who are obese or have diabetes.

In very rare cases, it can indicate a cancerous tumour in an internal organ. In many situations, treating the underlying problem can help fade the discoloration such as by losing weight, taking medication for any underlying problems or surgery.

Treatment however, depends on the cause.

Erythrasma is also a medical condition that may be a culprit for armpit discolouration. 

Erythrasma is a long-term skin infection caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium minutissimum and is more commonly found in people who are overweight or have diabetes.

Regardless of the cause, your first step should be to a dermatologist.

If dead skin cell build-up is to blame, a dermatologist should be able to diagnose the condition and prescribe an exfoliant to remove the dead skin.

If the reason for the discolouration is because stimulated melanocytes are producing extra melanin, a topical ointment will likely be the treatment option which will work well – but is only a short-term remedy.

Easy at-home remedies

Many of the treatments to avoid skin discolouration of the armpits are very simple, they include:

- Regular bathing or showering
- Wax rather than shave: this helps eliminate dark hair that causes underarms to appear dark. The added benefit of waxing includes the removal of dead skin cells.
- Exfoliate: When dead skin cells accumulate, this can give the appearance of dark patches. To exfoliate properly use a semi-rough sponge while showering.
- Change your deodorant: Some deodorants and antiperspirants can cause an adverse reaction with the skin cells that produce melanin. Ask your dermatologist about a less harsh one or find a natural one at a health food store.
- Keeping your skin dry, especially in warmer months
- Avoid wearing clothes which cause you to sweat and when exercising wear fabrics which absorb moisture
- Avoid very hot or damp conditions
- Maintain a healthy body weight.

However, if your armpits are already discoloured, here are some easy at-home remedies which should alleviate the darkening:

There’s a reason lemons are the base of most cleaning products, they have a natural cleansing power of lemon and antibacterial properties. To lighten your armpits, use a thick slice of lemon and rub it on the armpit then gently wash afterwards.

Potatoes have an acidity which can be used to naturally ‘bleach’ the skin. Slice some potatoes and rub on your armpits and leave to try, then wash off gently and repeat if necessary.

Like potatoes, cucumbers contain natural bleaching agents. Rub a slice on your armpits and leave the paste on an hour before washing off.

Image: Shutterstock

Amy Froneman (ACE-Certified Personal Trainer, The KettleBelle),

New Health Guide; MedLine Plus; MayoClinic

*The views contained in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsor.


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Ask the Expert

Skin expert

Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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