- First, remove the cause of skin darkening in the underarm area
- Next, treat the underarm hyperpigmentation
- Don’t over treat underarm hyperpigmentation
- There is hope when you want to lighten dark armpits!
When speaking of hyperpigmentation treatments, we often think of the face. That’s usually because it’s the most visible. However, those who suffer from patchy skin darkening know that this condition can happen anywhere. That’s why underarm hyperpigmentation treatments can be popular.
So, how do you treat dark underarms and, more importantly, how do you prevent them in the first place?
We’ll answer those questions in this article!
First, remove the cause of skin darkening in the underarm area
Underarm skin is a lot more sensitive than we may realize. It’s very thin skin, like the skin around the eyes. If you can imagine taking a razor to your eyelids, you can imagine how harshly we treat our underarms on a regular basis. We do this by shaving, applying deodorants, rubbing clothes on them, not airing them out, etc.
A lot of hyperpigmentation in the skin begins when the skin is irritated somehow. For example, a pimple on the face can cause hyperpigmentation by leaving behind a dark acne scar. Skin darkening after injury is called, “post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.”
In other cases, hyperpigmentation happens due to:
- Medications (like birth control, thyroid regulators, other hormone-affecting medicines, and more)
- Lifestyle (i.e. smoking!)
- Health issues (like an imbalance of hormones or insulin).
Sometimes, it can’t be prevented (such as with melasma during pregnancy). But even if it is ‘in you’ (so to speak), skin irritation will only make it worse.
Moreover, darker skin tones already produce more melanin than lighter skin tones. This makes people of colour more likely to develop patchy hyperpigmentation. We explain this in more detail, here.
So, when treating underarm hyperpigmentation, it’s important to first address the root cause of the skin’s darkening.
One way to find the root cause is by process of elimination. For example, you can try to change deodorants, start shaving with a shaving cream or stop using existing skin treatments on the underarms.
On the flip side, you can try adding new things in, such as shaving creams and moisturizers.
If you’re not sure, or if you think your condition is related to health and genetics, you should speak with a doctor. Don’t stop taking medications without the advice of a doctor.
Common underarm skin irritants include:
- Shaving too closely or pressing too hard when shaving
Solution: always use a sharp, clean razor blade. Or, switch to waxing, if you can avoid irritation with it. Better yet, opt for laser hair removal, using a provider who can manage your skin tone. Shameless plug: we can!
- Bacterial infection
Solution: never share razor blades and don’t leave razor blades in the shower. Keep your underarms clean and exfoliate them gently (such as with mild, chemical exfoliants).
- Deodorants or antiperspirants
Solution: Choose as little fragrance as possible and go with more moisturizing ingredients. Avoid alcohol and sodium bicarbonate (i.e. baking soda) in natural deodorants. Switch any deodorant you’re currently using, to see if it helps.
- Constant friction
Solution: avoid tight clothing. Lose weight and seek treatment for sagging skin.
- UV exposure
Solution: wear clothing that protects you from the sun, and wear sunscreen everywhere else.
Note: if you think there is a chance your hyperpigmentation is due to excess weight and high insulin levels, you may have acanthosis nigricans (AN). Speak with a doctor to manage the possibility of diabetes or other serious health concerns before addressing hyperpigmentation.
Next, treat the underarm hyperpigmentation
After you have eliminated the cause of underarm hyperpigmentation, you can begin to seek treatments for it. At this point, you can try a few things to see if they work (such as home remedies or mild, over-the-counter creams).
However, given that the underarm area is so thin and sensitive, it’s best to seek professional help for this type of hyperpigmentation. Anything you do incorrectly could irritate the area again, leading to another bout of skin darkening. This can take months to heal from.
Common treatments for armpit lightening include:
Retinoids are a classification of Vitamin A derivatives, which can be taken topically or orally. For hyperpigmentation, it’s usually topical. Retinoids are a ‘wonder treatment’ for a variety of skin concerns, including discolouration. Learn more about them, here.
We recommend Retinol Complex 1, 0.5 or 0.25 by SkinMedica®. Start with .25 once or twice a week. Then, slowly begin using it more and more, and in higher dosages. It is common, and recommended, to ask a doctor for advice on using retinoids. It is very strong stuff!
Tyrosinase inhibitors and skin lighteners
Apart from retinoids, skin lightening creams use specific concentrations of special ingredients. These ingredients block tyrosinase enzymes from being able to over-produce melanin in the skin. Some are sold by prescription only. They can include:
- Tranexamic acid
- Phenylethyl resorcinol
- L-ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)
- Azelaic acid
- Kojic acid
Note: you’ll often see “hydroquinone-free” skin lighteners on the market. This is because hydroquinone has been associated with side-effects, in rare cases. It should not be used long-term, regardless.
At our clinic, we’ve seen success with Lytera® 2.0 Pigment Brightening Serum by SkinMedica®. It has been clinically studied to reduce hyperpigmentation. It includes tranexamic acid, niacinamide, phenylethyl resorcinol, tetrapeptide-30 and other beneficial ingredients for fighting melanin production. It is hydroquinone-free.
Chemical peels aim to exfoliate through alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids. They can help remove the darkened skin that is sitting at the top of the dermis. The idea is to not overdo this, however, so as not to further irritate the armpit. It should only be performed by a professional, who has assessed your particular needs.
Learn more about the different types of chemical peels, here.
Like chemical peels, microdermabrasion aims to exfoliate the top layer of dead skin cells. Except instead of using chemicals, it uses fine sand particles or a diamond-tipped wand.
The top layer of skin is where most of your hyperpigmentation resides. By gently removing it, the body naturally begins producing fresh, new skin. The idea is that this new skin will not be hyperpigmented, since it is not as irritated as the layers of dead skin being removed.
Learn more about microdermabrasion, here.
Laser skin rejuvenation
Lasers come in many types and varieties. Some are better at healing hyperpigmentation than others. However, incorrectly using lasers can lead to burns, which can cause more post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This can be hard to reverse (if it is severe).
When choosing a laser clinic, be sure to go with one that is physician-led. The doctor on staff should have plenty of experience treating pigmentation concerns with lasers. Treatments need to be performed ‘just right’ to be effective, while not worsening your condition.
Learn how hyperpigmentation treatments are measured for success by doctors, here.
Gentle exfoliants for at-home maintenance
Medical-grade facials and laser treatments are almost always accompanied by recommendations to use specific skin care products. You’ll need to follow a doctor’s orders ‘to the t’ when it comes to at-home skin care regimens for hyperpigmentation.
Above, we’ve named some of the common skin care ingredients you may be prescribed for this condition. However, you may also need to use regular, gentle exfoliating products on the armpits, to get rid of hyperpigmentation there.
At our clinic, we sell the following, which may be helpful:
- AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser by SkinMedica® with biodegradable jojoba spheres
- AHA/BHA Cream by SkinMedica®
The above products may be too strong to use on a daily basis. So if you do opt to use them, start once a week, and work your way up from there. Better yet, ask a trained aesthetician or doctor!
Don’t over treat underarm hyperpigmentation
Sometimes, people can get so zealous to remove their dark armpits, that they go overboard on treatments. They may try using a strong retinol, skin lightener or a harsh scrub that is meant for their face or other parts of their body. This can lead to more irritation, which will worsen the hyperpigmentation.
It’s important to go ‘slow and steady’ when treating underarm hyperpigmentation. Don’t use too strong of a dose on this area. Be patient, and eventually, your skin is likely to heal from it.
Nonetheless, even if your armpit skin does get lighter, you’ll need to be aware that you are prone to skin darkening. Continue to be cautious of over-irritating the area. Long-term use of certain products may be necessary.
There is hope when you want to lighten dark armpits!
As we’ve seen above, lightening dark armpits can be done. It just takes some diligence, patience and a little TLC on your underarm skin.
First you’ll need to remove the cause of the hyperpigmentation, which may involve some lifestyle changes. In other cases, you’ll need to see a doctor to address health issues that may be leading to hyperpigmentation.
A doctor-led medical aesthetic clinic can also provide top-notch services for hyperpigmentation. These can include cosmeceutical skin care, chemical peels, microdermabrasion and laser skin rejuvenation.