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8 Causes for Dark Underarms

dark underarms: before and after

Getting the perfectly smooth underarms of a disposable razor commercial isn’t as easy as all the models dancing under waterfalls make it look! Whether you shave or wax, it can sometimes feel like your skin is determined to work against you. You might feel this even more if shaving or waxing your underarms reveals a patch of skin that’s darker than the rest of your body.

On the upside, dark underarms are rarely an indication of anything serious. But if you’re looking to have a permanent breakup with this dark shadow hanging over your hot girl summer or winter, you should start by trying to figure out what is causing your discoloration in the first place. So let’s talk about some of the usual suspects when it comes to dark underarms!

1. Negative Product Reaction

How much thought do you put into the type of deodorant you use? Probably not very much — we’d be lying if we said we never developed brand loyalty to our deodorant when we were tweens and never put it up for review.

But when it comes to dark underarms, your deodorant could potentially be the culprit. Whereas exposure to an allergen on other parts of your body may result in a rash or hives, or something more visible recognizable as an allergic reaction, an allergic reaction in your underarms could present as darker skin. This tends to be more common in people with melanin-rich skin.

How To Treat It

Unfortunately, we’re going to have to ask you to retire your Teen Spirit Stick. While your deodorant may smell amazing and you may have been counting on it to save you from BO and embarrassment since the grade school locker room, the first thing you should do if you’re struggling with dark underarms is stop using deodorant and see if things improve.

2. Hyperpigmentation Caused by Skin Cell Build-Up

One of the more common causes of hyperpigmentation is a build-up of dead skin cells. When you end up with too many dead skin cells gathered in one area, they tend to ramp up the process by which your skin gets its pigment. This can make the area look darker!

How To Treat It

Luckily, this is an easy one. While you probably have an exfoliation plan for your face and even other parts of your body, you may not have thought much of exfoliating your underarms, but it can be a huge help when it comes to brightening and rejuvenating your skin… even in your armpits.

3. Medication Side Effect

It may seem strange, but there are actually several medications that can cause your underarms to darken as a side effect!

How To Treat It

It’s important to emphasize that you under no circumstances should stop taking any medication without speaking with your doctor first — this can really put your health at risk and be very dangerous depending on what the medication is meant to be treating. The best course of action if you think you may be taking a medication that could cause hyperpigmentation as a side effect is to speak to your doctor.

Dark underarms as a side effect are also not dangerous in and of themselves. It’s much more important to treat any underlying conditions you have first and foremost.

4. Shaving Woes

Suppose you’ve struggled with hyperpigmentation in other areas of your body. In that case, you might already be aware that one of the causes of hyperpigmentation is damage or irritation to the skin. This type is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It occurs when your skin produces more melanin as a result of injury or inflammation.

Those with darker skin tones are more likely to struggle with this, but it can happen to anybody, on almost any part of your body.

You might have already made the connection, but because those of us who shave our underarms tend to do so daily, if you’re not taking care of your skin when you shave, you could end up irritating the skin and instigating hyperpigmentation.

It’s also possible that if your razor just isn’t cutting it, you might have a bit of underarm stubble going on that’s making your underarm look darker than it is.

How To Treat It

If you can afford to work it into your routine — or are brave enough to do it at home — you can switch to waxing instead of shaving, which will remove the hair from the root rather than irritate the skin at the surface.

You can also free yourself from the endless cycle of hair removal and just let your underarm hair grow out if you’re comfortable with it! This is probably the best way to keep your skin from getting irritated with regular waxing or shaving.

5. Vitamin Deficiencies

Although vitamins aren’t a magic pill that will instantly solve all of your problems, if your hyperpigmentation is due to a vitamin deficiency, taking regular supplements can really help. Studies show that Vitamin B deficiency, specifically, can cause hyperpigmentation.

How To Treat It

Vitamin B can be found in supplements and can be added to your diet by prioritizing fish, red meat, shellfish or dark green vegetables. Vitamin B can also be found in basics like milk, cheese and eggs — so there’s no need to worry about complicating your diet. Vitamin B can be found in many things you probably already eat regularly!

6. Acanthosis Nigricans

Acanthosis Nigricans sounds like a mouthful, but it’s actually a relatively common condition. It causes certain areas of the skin to get thicker or darker, but it generally isn’t harmful and it isn’t in any way contagious.

Although there isn’t a specific cause for Acanthosis Nigricans per se, certain factors might make you more likely to suffer from it. Obesity is the leading cause of Acanthosis Nigricans. If it runs in your family, too, it’s more likely that you might develop it, even if you’re totally healthy.

That said, Acanthosis Nigricans can also be indicative of a larger issue. (More on that later!) So if you find yourself with a thick, velvety patch of dark skin under your arms, it’s important to speak to a doctor about your concerns to ensure there isn’t something else going on.

How To Treat It

The best place to start when it comes to treating Acanthosis Nigricans is with your doctor or dermatologist! If you find out it’s connected to another condition, treating that condition will usually help with your dark underarms.

If you’re only looking to treat your Acanthosis Nigricans for cosmetic reasons, you’ll want to treat it similar to how you’d treat any other issue with hyperpigmentation. In general, working an exfoliation method into your routine is crucial!

It may also help to incorporate a cream or body wash that contains Alpha Hydroxy Acids. Alpha Hydroxy Acids promote exfoliation through a chemical solution rather than an abrasive, physical exfoliator. It’s an effective tool for tackling any dark spots or blemishes on your skin.

However, if you shave, it might be worth leaving your razor in its holder for a little while as you use them to ensure you don’t get skincare products in the micro-cuts that tend to occur when you shave. And don’t forget to wear something loose afterward, so you don’t immediately rub any helpful products off on your clothes!

7. Hormones!

Among the many annoyances caused by our hormones, dark underarms can also be caused by everybody’s favorite body chemical! Skin can darken due to a hormonal imbalance called melasma.

This is more common in female-bodied people, particularly if you’re pregnant or taking hormonal birth control — which makes sense because that’s when your hormones are at their most intense. Melasma most commonly appears on the face.

How To Treat It

If you noticed your underarms darkening not long after you began taking hormonal birth control, or popped up around the time you got pregnant, speak to your doctor! Don’t just stop taking your birth control — speak to your doctor to find the solution that’s right and safe for you.

8. Something More Serious

While dark underarms in and of themselves aren’t something to worry about, health-wise, it could be symptomatic of a larger issue. In very rare cases, Acanthosis Nigricans can develop due to cancer — but let us emphasize, such cases are extremely rare!

Acanthosis Nigricans can also be an early warning sign for type 2 diabetes — the inability to process insulin can cause your body to produce more pigment. This is particularly a concern if your dark underarms develop very quickly.

How To Treat It

Not to sound like a broken record — but speak to your doctor. While dark underarms aren’t a reason to panic, it’s important to speak to a professional if you notice any significant discoloration of your skin, just to make sure that everything is copacetic and that you’re treating it appropriately.

In Conclusion

Dark underarms can occur for a wide variety of reasons! If you’re getting frustrated with discoloration in that area, the most important thing to keep in mind is to speak to a doctor or dermatologist first to ensure you’re handling it safely and successfully. And as long as everything is a-okay, moving forward with a new skincare routine that includes your underarms will help brighten your outlook!

By: Tiesha Bridges Licensed Aesthetician & Customer
Service Representative