When it comes to skincare, we tend to focus on our faces first, our neck and chest second, and our underarms… pretty much never. However, there’s a lot to be said in favor of having an underarm skincare routine. The skin of your armpits is quite sensitive and it faces a series of unique challenges—think shaving, daily applications of deodorant or antiperspirant, etc.
Today, we’re learning more about underarm skin, and how you can keep it healthy and comfortable day in, day out.
On this post:
- Why is underarm skin unique?
- Common underarm issues, and how to solve them
- A simple underarm skincare routine
Why is underarm skin unique?
At first glance, the skin of your armpits is nothing special. It’s just skin, right? Well, not quite. According to scientific literature, “the axilla is a biologically unique site requiring specialized attention and care. This area of skin is often subject to hair removal techniques, such as shaving and plucking. These procedures damage the skin leading to erythema and dryness in the short term, and in some cases, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIHP) in the long term.”
Let’s start with the basic structure of this area: the armpits have a high density of sweat glands, which produce sweat (obviously) and create, as a consequence, moisture. Since the armpit is a giant skin fold, this moisture often ends up trapped in a cozy dark spot, which allows for plenty of bacterial and fungal development. The result? Body odor.
The underarms are also particularly sensitive because of how the skin rubs against itself and, occasionally, against your clothes. Friction, combined with sweat, can lead to chaffing and irritation.
Finally, there’s the whole hair removal thing. Many people shave their underarm hair, which can lead to razor burn, ingrown hairs, and plenty of irritation and rashes. Some deodorants may also contribute to this.
See? There’s a lot to say about the unique challenges that affect our armpits!
Common underarm issues, and how to solve them
Now that we understand the causes of some issues that affect our armpits, let’s take a closer look at them and, more importantly, figure out how to fix them:
One of the most common concerns that affects the armpit area is, of course, excessive sweating—aka hyperhidrosis. If you find that you tend to sweat a lot regardless of how warm the weather is or how physically active you’ve been, you may have some degree of hyperhidrosis.
If you’re excessive sweating is mostly focused on your armpits, you can try to solve the issue by using an antiperspirant. Read that again: you need an antiperspirant (the kind of product that helps you reduce the quantity of sweat), not a deodorant (the kind of product that helps you control body odor).
If you can’t get the situation under control using an antiperspirant, then it may be time to speak to your doctor. There are other solutions for hyperhidrosis that may be worth looking into.
(Do you sweat a lot, but mostly from your feet? Try a targeted foot deodorant.)
When we think about underarms, it’s normal to think about body odor. As we’ve seen, the armpit area is full of sweat glands, and the sweat they produce creates the body odor we so desperately wany to get rid of. However, there’s a small misconception here: it is not the sweat that smells bad!
You see, sweat is virtually odorless when expelled from the body. It’s only when the bacteria that live on our skin start to feed on our sweat that body odor sets in. In short: body odor does not come from your sweat, but from the interaction between bacteria and your sweat. There’s a difference!
In order to prevent body odor, there’s a couple of things you can do: keep your skin clean by showering or bathing every day; wear clean clothes; invest in loose-fitting clothes made from natural, breathable fabrics; and, of course, wear deodorant or antiperspirant.
Most of us have experienced underarm itching or irritation at some point. Underarm irritation is a relatively common issue, and it can be attributed to some (similarly common) causes: razor burns from shaving, ingrown hairs, or some sort of reaction to our deodorant or antiperspirant. In some cases, irritation can also come from bacterial or fungal growth (after all, our armpits are warm and humid areas with terrible air circulation), or from chaffing against the side of your body or your clothes. Even had a particularly annoying seam right up your armpit? It’s awful!
To stop irritation and itching, you should start by removing the trigger: if it’s your deodorant, try another one; if it’s shaving, replace your razor; if it’s ingrown hairs, try a gentle exfoliant; if it’s chaffing from specific garments, change! If the irritation persists, you can also apply a soothing moisturizer to try and calm your skin. If everything fails, it may be time to speak to your doctor.
Underarm darkening (also known, in scientific circles, as axillary hyperpigmentation) is a common concern for many people. It’s essentially cosmetic, so it’s not necessarily a health concern—but you may still want to fix it.
The underarm area may darken for a variety of reasons, including post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation originating from irritation (from friction, shaving and hair removal, or even cosmetic products such as deodorants and antiperspirants). Hormonal changes may also play a part. Finally, medical conditions such as acanthosis nigricans may also be the root cause of axillary hyperpigmentation.
There are many reasons why the skin of your underarms may darken–but how do you fix the issue?
Basically, just as you would fix any other instance of hyperpigmentation situation: with specialized ingredients. Here at Care to Beauty, we like to address hyperpigmentation with ingredients like retinoids, azelaic acid, AHAs, kojic acid, tranexamic acid, or even niacinamide. Just keep in mind that hyperpigmentation can be very difficult to treat, and that’s no different for the underarm area.
A simple underarm skincare routine
Now that we know which issues can affect your armpits (and how you can resolve them), let’s look at a basic underarm skincare routine you can use on the daily:
1. Wash often
Make sure to wash your underarms thoroughly during your daily shower or bath. Use a mild cleanser and avoid harsh soaps—these will only strip your skin of much-needed oils and cause irritation and itchiness. Use warm water (not hot), rinse thoroughly, and you’ll be good to go!
2. Exfoliate regularly
You don’t have to exfoliate your underarms every day, but a regular scrub can definitely be beneficial. It will help you remove dead skin cells and prevent ingrown hairs
You have two options: you can exfoliate in the shower using a very gentle body scrub, or you can exfoliate outside the shower using a chemical exfoliant. A somewhat in-between option is to use a body wash with exfoliant ingredients, such as AHAs. Whatever you do, just keep it gentle!
3. Remove hair with caution
If you shave or use other methods of hair removal, make sure to use them properly. If you shave, make sure your razor is sharp; if you wax, make sure to follow the instructions of your product in order to cause as little stress to the skin as possible.
Hair removal doesn’t have to be traumatic to your skin—it’s just a matter of doing it carefully.
Do you need armpit moisturizer? Maybe you do! After cleansing, exfoliating, shaving, and who knows what else, your underarms may feel a little dry and uncomfortable.
If this sounds like you, apply a lightweight moisturizer to your underarm area and allow it to absorb. You don’t want to be walking around with a huge amount of moisturizer residue under your arms, so keep things light. Apply a modest amount of product that your skin can absorb without leaving a lot of residue on the surface.
5. Apply deodorant or antiperspirant
Applying deodorant or antiperspirant is an essential step in many people’s underarm skincare routine.
Let’s brush up on the differences between these two products: while deodorants help reduce or neutralize body odor, antiperspirants help reduce sweat production (so they keep you dry too, in addition to smelling nice). There is no “better” option between the two. Some people prefer deodorants and some people prefer antiperspirants: just choose your favorite and use it regularly!
Hopefully this post has motivated you to think about your underarm skincare routine in a different way. Give your underarms a little extra attention, and your skin will thank you–and, hopefully, it won’t feel itchy or irritated again any time soon.
And, to top up your underarm skincare routine in the best way, make sure to browse our full selection of deodorants and antiperspirants.
Beauty Writer & Editor