Hello, Sleeveless Season

What's The Deal with Dark Armpits, & Do These DIY Solutions Actually Work?

Before you start rubbing lemon juice on your pits, hear what a pro has to say.

Originally Published: 
A woman looks in the mirror with her armpits exposed.
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There's a good chance you don't give much thought to your armpits beyond occasionally making sure they're odor-free. But if you've recently broken out the tank tops or bathing suits and notice your pits are suddenly dark or discolored, you might wonder what the eff is going on underneath your arms.

First, rest assured that dark underarms are not only totally common. In most cases, they're nothing to be concerned about, as Dr. Geeta Yadav, board-certified dermatologist and founder of FACET Dermatology, tells Scary Mommy. Still, if you're just not loving how it looks during sleeveless season, no worries. We'll tell you whether or not those natural, DIY solutions you see all over TikTok actually work.

What's the deal with dark armpits?

"Dark armpits are very common, especially in deeper skin tones," explains Yadav. "It's typically a form of hyperpigmentation that's exacerbated by the friction of skin rubbing together or shaving."

ICYDK, hyperpigmentation occurs when your skin produces extra melanin (aka pigment), which can make skin look discolored on certain parts of your body. You might notice brown, black, gray, or pink spots. It can occur anywhere on the body but might be more common where skin rubs or folds together, such as the armpits or groin.

Yadav notes that dark underarms are not dangerous but can be a sign of another issue. It can be hereditary, triggered by irritation or inflammation from hair removal (i.e., shaving or waxing), something in your skincare routine you're allergic or sensitive to, friction from tight clothing, or excessive sweating. In these cases, checking in with a dermatologist or allergist could help you narrow down any changes in your routine and alleviate the discoloration.

Dark underarms could also signal an underlying health concern, notes Yadav. "In some cases, dark armpits can be caused by acanthosis nigricans (AN), a condition characterized by darker, thicker skin where skin folds, like the armpits, genitals, elbows, knees, etc. It's not dangerous but can indicate another health issue, like diabetes."

The condition is very common, affecting as many as 74% of people at some point in their lifetime, and co-occurs with a rise in insulin resistance and weight gain. It might also be a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), so if your underarm hyperpigmentation coincides with other health concerns, checking in with your doctor is always a good idea to rule out any other issues.

Hormonal changes from puberty or pregnancy can also be a trigger, which means you might notice dark armpits in your child as young as age 8 or in yourself during pregnancy — all of which is typically normal and not cause for concern.

Do DIY treatments work?

These days, TikTok is chock-full of solutions claiming to lighten your armpit skin naturally, but are they effective or even safe? If you've been seeing those sugar and cucumber scrubs or a lemon and baking soda mixture all over your FYP, you might be curious if the solution to your pit woes could be right in your kitchen.

The long and short of it, per Yadav: "DIY treatments won't be effective, and you'll likely do more harm to your skin than good." These at-home solutions could potentially irritate delicate underarm skin, especially if you've recently shaved or waxed. While citrus-based solutions (such as lemon or lime) can help brighten skin over time, the compounds in citrus juice can actually cause more sensitivity and inflammation, potentially worsening hyperpigmentation, especially if skin is exposed to the sun. Yep, margarita burn is a real thing, friends.

"Dark armpits are perfectly natural, but if they bother you, professional treatments like chemical peels, micro-needling, or laser therapy performed by a dermatologist will be your best course of action," explains Yadav. And what about the many products out there that claim to lighten skin tone? "You can use products to treat them at home, but they won't be as powerful" as professional treatments, she says.

Still, if you do want to try something you spotted at the drugstore in lieu of potentially pricey treatments, you'll want to "look for skin-brightening ingredients that will help block the enzyme that triggers melanin production, which can lead to hyperpigmentation," says Yadav. "Some of the most common ingredients in this category include hydroquinone, vitamin C, arbutin, and kojic acid."

As with any new product, you'll want to patch test in a small area first to ensure there's no irritation or reaction. Of course, there's no harm in leaving well enough alone and showing off those dark pits with pride, especially if you've ruled out any underlying causes or concerns. No skincare or beauty 'solution' is worth giving your pits an itchy, painful rash this summer.

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