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Lighten and Smooth Dark Underarms

Dark underarms can ruin a sleeveless tank before you can say summer. There’s nothing like shaving only to discover that the darkness wasn’t because you went November to March without shaving (got to love that sweater weather though!) 

While generally harmless, dark underarms are a common issue. This area is sensitive and easily irritated. It rarely sees the sun, it’s constantly under friction, and is, unfortunately, a breeding ground for bacteria if we’re not careful. Given those circumstances, there may be various culprits darkening your underarm area from genetic conditions to everyday routines. 

Before we move on to what we can do to help lighten the area, let’s take a look at some of the offenders. 

Potential Causes & Solutions 

Shaving: Shaving can cause dark underarms because each pass with the razor has the potential to irritate the hair follicle. This can result in the thickening of the skin around the follicle which usually has a darker appearance, especially for those with darker complexions. 

Try to not press so hard when shaving and always use some lubricant to keep skin from tearing. While a close shave is nice, digging the razor too deeply into the sensitive area can cause inflammation and ingrown hairs, all of which can lead to hyperpigmentation, especially for darker skin tones. 

Another hairy problem, if you are one of our Snow White friends with raven hair and a lighter complexion, the issue might not even be the skin, but just the dark, ungrown hair below. Waxing may help reduce the appearance as it removes hair deeper within the follicle as opposed to shaving, which only removes the stubble. 

The caveat is that if you are in this camp and have sensitive skin, waxing can further irritate the skin and cause darkness from build up as the skin repairs itself from the tearing. If you have the ability (ahem, the funds) to get laser hair removal, the procedure can help reduce the appearance long term and you’ll never have to shave again, which sounds pretty darn good to, well, everyone. 

Dead skin cell build-up: The build-up of skin cells can accumulate and cause some darkness. The constant friction from your arms rubbing against fabric or your skin can cause thicker (read: darker) skin to build up from all the abrasion. Exfoliating with a gentle scrub, ideally with skin lightening ingredients, can help to remove the build-up to reveal smoother, and brighter skin below. 

Deodorants and Antiperspirants: While we love them for their sweat and odor-reducing powers, the chemicals used in certain deodorants and antiperspirants can cause the underarm to darken. A commonly used ingredient, aluminum chloride, helps inhibit perspiration, but can also act as an allergen for some people causing inflammation and redness. It can also cause further skin cell accumulation and prevent your pores from breathing clearly.

Many of them can also contain pore-clogging ingredients. Even natural deodorants with ingredients like coconut oil or cocoa butter can be particularly clogging to your underarms. Switching to a deodorant free of alcohol, parabens, and aluminum chloride can help keep underarms fresh and pores clear. 

If none of these are working there are more powerful options like underarm lightening procures by dermatologists, micro-needling, or chemical peels with lightening agents. 

Acanthosis nigricans (AN): Aside from our beauty routines there might be other factors at play when it comes to dark underarms. AN is a fairly common skin condition, typically seen in darker skin tones, where the skin takes on a velvety texture and a darkened hue. It can be a sign of diabetes, a symptom of obesity, or other endocrine issues. It’s typically accompanied by darkness around the neck and groin area as well. 

Speak with your doctor if you believe that your darkened underarms are caused by AN.

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