What Causes Dark Underarms—and How to Get Rid of It, According to Derms

It's all about being gentle with your skin.

If you're someone who experiences hyperpigmentation, then you know that the journey to an even skin tone can be long and winding. Hyperpigmentation occurs when there is excessive melanin causing the appearance of dark spots. These spots can show up on any skin color, tone, age, or area of the body.

A common, but not often talked about, area where many people experience hyperpigmentation is the underarms. Darkness in this area is tricky to heal because the skin is very sensitive.

However, if the darkness in this area is something you'd like to address, then dermatologists say it's worth giving extra attention to your underarms. Ahead, learn how to get rid of dark underarms and how to prevent it from happening altogether.

What Causes Dark Underarms?

The condition of dark underarms is known as axillary hyperpigmentation. Alicia Zalka, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Surface Deep, an online skincare resource, says it can be a temporary concern caused by irritation or trauma to the skin or signal an underlying medical condition.

"[Excessive] friction and rubbing (such as chafing) can lead to irritation and, in turn, result in pigmentation," says Dr. Zalka. "The skin's response to this insult of friction is to become hard, and this response makes the skin darker in color."

Irritation caused by skincare formulas can also cause hyperpigmentation. "Your underarm skin is very delicate, and repeated exposure to drying products or irritating chemicals may lead to skin pigmentation," she says. Other causes of dark underarms can include clogged pores, razor burn, product build-up, or hormonal changes.

More severe cases of hyperpigmentation in this area are associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), acanthosis nigricans (a condition that causes discoloration in the folds of your body), and inflammatory conditions like eczema, says DiAnne Davis, a board-certified dermatologist.

While people of any skin tone or color can experience darkness in the underarms, Dr. Davis says, patients of color are more prone to it as they are also more prone to hyperpigmentation because of the melanin already produced in their skin.

How to Get Rid of Dark Underarms

"Whenever you are trying to correct pigmentation, time and patience are key," says Dr. Davis. "Gentle exfoliating scrubs can be beneficial, and ingredients, such as cucumber or aloe vera moisturize the skin and calm inflammation, which can be helpful as well."

Dr. Zalka says exfoliating helps avoid skin product build-up caused by layering products, like deodorant day after day, which can sometimes leave behind a waxy residue. "Much like product residue can build up on your hair and scalp, and you seek a clarifying shampoo, the same can be done with underarm skin," she says.

When exfoliating with scrubs, cleansers, or masks, Dr. Zalka stresses being very gentle because rubbing too harshly or overdoing it can make the pigmentation worse. Also, look for ingredients like azelaic acid, hydroquinone, kojic acid, tretinoin, salicylic acid, and tranexamic acid in your exfoliators to help alleviate dark skin.

In addition to exfoliating, incorporating dark spot correctors into your routine can also help fade hyperpigmentation. From oils to lotions and serums, there are plenty of options available on the market. For example, Bushbalm Bermuda Oil ($26; amazon.com) went viral on TikTok because of its ability to reduce the look of hyperpigmentation and dark spots on the body.

How to Prevent Dark Underarms

The best prevention method against dark underarms is being gentle with the skin under your arms, says Dr. Zalka. "If you feel irritation from your deodorant or shaving, or from chafing due to rubbing of the skin on rough fabric, take a break from the offending item," she says.

When shaving, Dr. Zalka says never shave on bare skin and always use a lubricant like a shaving gel to keep the area smooth, moisturized, and reduce the chances of irritation.

Additionally, paying attention to the type of deodorant you use is key. "Sometimes there are some deodorants and antiperspirants that have active ingredients that can either clog up the sweat ducts or irritate the skin, so you want to be careful to avoid these types of products," says Dr. Davis.

Avoid deodorants with baking soda and antiperspirants with aluminum. One to try is Surface Deep Anti-Odorant Spray ($18; amazon.com), which is free of aluminum and harsh chemicals and works double duty to exfoliate the skin and prevent body odor.

If you're not a fan of sprays, Forgotten Skincare Original Underarm Brightening Deodorant Cream ($32; forgottenskincare.com) is a moisturizing formula that fades dark spots, soothes irritation from shaving, and blocks body odor. Dr. Davis also says Dove Even Tone Antiperspirant Deodorant ($7; target.com) is a classic that she recommends to patients.

Whatever you choose, make sure you're consistent, patient, and gentle with your skin.

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