Underarms don’t get much love, but think about how much they relate to your confidence — what you wear, how you move. “Aside from removing hair and applying deodorant, most people tend to neglect their armpits, even though it’s one of the most sensitive parts of our body,” says Shobha Tummala, the founder and CEO of Shobha hair-removal salons, in New York City. “This neglect can cause irritation, such as redness and ingrown hairs, which can make armpits less than appealing.” Read on to discover the most common underarm problems and how to prevent and treat them, so you don’t have to think of your underarms as “the pits.”
At times you may notice that parts of your underarm are darker than others. Changes in skin pigmentation can occur because of a number of reasons, including a fluctuation in hormone levels and sensitivity to certain products, says Tummala. These changes are more common in women with darker skin. Says Tummala, “To help lighten and brighten the skin, use cleansers and moisturizers that include fruit and milk acids, which have natural lightening properties.”
Sure, we all sweat a little more than we’d like to from time to time, especially when we’re nervous, it’s hot out, or we just finished a grueling spinning class. But it’s time to visit your doctor if you’re sweating so much that it’s ruining your clothes. “If you’re going through multiple shirts a day, speak to your doctor about a prescription deodorant, Botox injections, or a laser treatment to help control the problem,” says Anne Chapas, MD, the director of Union Square Laser Dermatology and a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center.
One of the most common underarm problems is general irritation or a rash. “Temperature, hair removal, clothing, and even the type of deodorant you wear can cause irritation, such as redness or bumps,” says Tummala. For the healthiest underarms possible, avoid tight clothes that rub underneath your arms, especially when you’re working out, she says. Wash with antibacterial soap, but don’t overdo it, suggests Dr. Chapas. “The skin under your arms is thin, and scrubbing too much will irritate it.” Finally, if you have sensitive skin, use an unscented deodorant, as fragrance is a common irritant.
Ingrown hairs occur most commonly because of shaving. The top of the hair follicle is cut off, and a sharp point is created at the end. “As the sharp point grows out, it can penetrate the skin surface and cause a bump,” explains Chapas.
To prevent ingrown hairs, Chapas suggests using a single-blade razor to shave under your arms — it’s less likely to leave your hair with that sharpened point. Or you can use a depilatory. “Laser hair removal is also a good option,” she says. “It works particularly well on the underarms, and generally you only need two to three treatments.”
Regular exfoliation of the area is also helpful, says Tummala. “To prevent ingrown hairs, exfoliate daily, except on days when you’ve waxed, threaded, or sugared the area,” she says. She recommends an exfoliating cloth or a lotion with glycolic acid to help the skin shed the dead, dull surface cells that may trap hairs.
As their name suggests, skin tags are little excess pieces of hanging skin. They’re common in any area of your body that has skin folds, like your underarms, and are a result of repeated friction, says Chapas. The good news is that skin tags are harmless. The bad news is that only your dermatologist can remove them safely. If you have a large number of them or you’re extremely bothered by them, make an appointment with your doctor to have them snipped sterilely.