A discolored armpit can be embarrassing and can affect what you wear and where you hang out. You may not want to go to the pool with your friends because of it. With the summer approaching, The Week talked to Dr Bhabendra Suwal, dermatologist at Nidan Hospital, Army Hospital and Blue Cross Hospital, to find out what causes the pigmentation and how to get rid of it to raise your hands without having to feel shy or embarrassed.
Causes and treatments
Acanthosis Nigricans is a common skin pigmentation disorder. It causes a dark patch not just in the armpits but the elbows, lips and soles of the feet as well. It can also be a sign of pre-diabetes so the best way to tackle this problem is to find what is causing it. It is common in people with darker skin tone, people who are overweight, and people who have diabetes. A high level of insulin in the body is generally the reason behind this disorder.
However, birth control pills, body building supplements and hormone treatments may result in the disorder as well.
If the cause is identified as high level of insulin in the blood stream, the best course of action is to reduce the intake of sugar and do some light exercises to help bring it back under control. The treatment for this disorder depends on what your underlying problem turns out to be.
Although shaving in itself is not a bad thing, it does make you prone to underarm discoloration. The hair that you have cut off on the surface of the armpit still lurks right below the skin in the follicles, making the shaved area look darker than the skin surrounding it. Some people don’t know it, but they could be allergic to the cheap metal that is used in razors. Using a razor once in a while, however, acts like an exfoliator and helps take away a layer of dead cells.
In order to avoid this pigmentation, you can wax, pluck or thread your underarm hair instead. These methods remove hairs from their follicles and don’t leave a patch of discolored skin. Alternatively, you can also try using a good quality razor and changing it regularly. Rubbing a blunt razor on your skin may cause further discoloration.
Overweight people mostly find that their underarms and inner thighs are darker than other parts of their body. This is due to excessive friction caused by rubbing against clothes as well as body fat. Although you can try other remedies, the best course of action in this case is to try to shed some weight. Avoid synthetic fabrics such as nylons as they create more friction and opt for free flowing cotton fabric. Obesity also interferes with the glucose production in the body and thus may result in an imbalance on the insulin levels, causing discoloration like in Acanthosis Nigricans.
Build up of dead cells
There are a lot of valleys and craters in your armpits that you can’t see. Sometimes, in these places there is a buildup of dead cells which makes the skin look darker. Exfoliating properly and shaving, in this case, may be helpful to remove a layer of dead cells to eventually reveal your natural skin tone.
Applying deodorants from a close proximity may cause an irritation in the skin that leads to the darkening of the armpits. Sometimes the skin may even react to the ingredients in the deodorant and cause discoloration of skin. Try changing your perfumed spray and apply it from a safe distance to see if the skin eventually returns to its normal color. If it doesn’t then visit the dermatologist to find out if there is any other underlying cause.
Other treatments and home remedies
Once you have visited the dermatologist and determined the cause behind the pigmentation of the skin, you can find the best way to treat it. There are chemical peels, vitamin C treatments and exfoliating drugs available that can help accelerate the process of regaining the normal skin color. Many people, however, opt for home remedies. While the concepts behind the home remedies are well thought out, you should also be careful while using it. Any scarring that occurs due to home remedies, especially in sensitive areas, don’t go away very easily. Although they might lighten over time, it is uncertain if they will ever completely fade away.
Rub a thick slice of lemon wedge on your underarms 10 minutes before taking a shower. After showering, apply moisturizer in the skin as the bleaching agent present in the lemon also dries out the skin. If your skin is too sensitive you can add honey, turmeric or yogurt with lemon juice and apply it for 10 minutes before washing it off as well.
Potatoes are milder than lemons but do the same job. Cut potatoes in thin slices and rub it for five to 10 minutes on your skin. You can also grate it, squeeze the juice out and apply the juice on your underarms with the help of cotton wool. Leave this on for 10 minutes before washing it off.
Add honey and sugar grains to lemon juice and apply it gently on your armpits with your fingers and leave it on for five to 10 minutes. With wet hands, rub your underarms to exfoliate your skin while you are at it. Sugar is a natural exfoliator and will help you get rid of dead cells to reveal clearer skin.