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Why Are My Armpits So Dark? -- Causes and Top 10 Natural Remedies

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October 10, 2012

By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

Do you have a closet full of sleeveless tops you never wear? Is raising your arms or working out a problem? More women than you would imagine are embarrassed by their dark armpits. Underarm darkening, also called axillary darkening, happens to both men and women but the problem is way more common in women. If you have darker skin you are especially prone to the problem of dark armpits.

Your armpits may be a shade darker than the rest of your skin or noticeably a different color. No one really knows how many people suffer from the embarrassing problem but the bleaching product market, which encompasses many different products that claim to lighten your skin, could be worth $10 billion by 2015 according to a 2010 report by Global Industry Analysts.

Darkened armpits could occur for a number of reasons. Why are your armpits so dark and what can you do about it? Are there any natural ways to lighten your armpits?

What Causes Dark Armpits?

Everyone's skin changes color occasionally - think what happens when you spend a day at the beach. When you go out in the sun with unprotected skin the UV rays stimulate cells called melanocytes to produce brown pigment. This pigment is called melanin and it helps protect your skin from more UV rays.

Sunlight isn't the only way to darken your skin. Certain conditions can affect how much melanin your body produces, leading to hyperpigmentation - excessive skin darkening. For example, being pregnant can cause you to produce more melanin, as can diseases like Addison's disease. Hyperpigmentation can spread all over the body or be restricted to one area - your underarms can be affected by hyperpigmentation.

The way you look after your skin can also affect the color of your armpits. We've drawn together the causes of dark armpits and the ways you can lighten them - take a look at the following top 10 natural remedies.

1. Shaving Can Cause Dark Armpits

If your armpits are too dark you might want to take a look at your hair removal habits. When you shave your underarms you leave stubble - a layer of hair just below the surface of your skin. Because armpit hair is darker and coarser than leg hair you'll see a dark, shadowy surface even just a few hours after you pick up the razor.  A 2006 study from the Unilever Colworth laboratory on female Filipino skin showed armpit darkening was caused by post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and that plucking or shaving was the key factor in this process.

Waxing is preferable to shaving because it takes hair out from the roots and cuts out the stubble, but it can be painful on the delicate skin under your arms. You could also try hair removal creams for sensitive skin.

2. Are Your Dark Armpits Caused by Antiperspirants?

One reason you have dark armpits may be the antiperspirant or deodorant you use. Chemicals in antiperspirants, sprays and deodorants can cause allergies and skin reactions, which are often accompanied by hyperpigmentation. Switch brands to see if your skin reacts more favorably. The Unilever R&D laboratory in Port Sunlight, UK (2007) has begun marketing an antiperspirant containing sunflower seed oil for controlling dark armpits in Latin American women. 

3. Diabetes and Dark Armpits

An excess of insulin, which occurs in people with type 2 diabetes, not only increases the risk of heart disease, blindness and kidney failure but it can also cause an over-stimulation of skin cells, including in the armpits. This armpit condition is most common in people of African descent who have diabetes. If you bring your diabetes under control, the dark patches should fade so make sure you are seeing your physician regularly and let him or her know about your underarm problem. (Read more about what to eat if you have diabetes.)

4. Underarm Bacteria Causes Dark Armpits

Disgusting as it may seem, your skin is swarming with microorganisms and one of the favorite places for the bacterium Corynebacterium minutissimum is under your arm. Normally this bacterium is not a problem but sweating causes chemical changes and produces odor and sometimes an infection called erythrasma. Erythrasma produces pinkish red skin that fades to a brown color over time.

According to a 2006 study by Coty Inc., Research & Development Center, NJ, there are certain microcapsules that can be added to skin care products which can act against the microorganisms and prevent infection and odor. Also, you can treat a bacterial problem with antibacterial soap, keep the area dry and apply an over-the-counter cream for combating the itching. You may need a course of antibiotics.

5. Exfoliation Can Get Rid of Dark Armpits

Many experts say dark underarms are caused by a build-up of dead skin cells that are trapped in the tiny folds of your skin under your arms. To prevent this becoming a problem, exfoliate under your arms regularly, preferably with a scrub containing lactic acid.  Once you've exfoliated, moisturize - according to a 2012 study by Port Sunlight Laboratory, Unilever Research and Development, UK your underarm requires specialized care and attention and skin build-up plus dryness can be alleviated with skin moisturizing.

6. Acanthosis Nigricans as a Dark Underarm Cause

Acanthosis nigricans is a skin disorder distinguished by hyperpigmentation and thickening of the skin, which mainly occurs in the folds of the skin under your arm and in the groin or back of the neck. According to the New Zealand Dermatological Society, this condition may be related to insulin production or a glandular disorder and most commonly occurs in overweight people. To avoid acanthosis nigricans make sure your insulin is regulated and use prescription creams to lighten the underarm area.

7. Are Underarm Skin Lightening Creams Dangerous?

Be careful before you use any over-the-counter or prescription creams for lightening the skin under your arms. A British Skin Foundation survey discovered that 16 percent of UK dermatologists believed lightening creams were "completely unsafe" and 80 percent felt that the creams were only safe when properly prescribed by a dermatologist. Some skin lightening creams contain illegal substances such as steroids, or hydroquinone, a bleaching agent which can cause permanent skin bleaching or thinning of the skin in large doses. Ask your dermatologist for treatment if you are concerned about your dark armpits.

8. Natural Skin Whitening for your Underarms

Certain natural compounds may be a better bet as skin lightening agents, according to experts. Betula pendula leaves, otherwise known as leaves from the silver birch tree, are useful for skin care products that lighten the skin and provide antioxidant effects, according to 2012 research from the University of Messina, Messina, Italy.

9. Pregnancy May Cause Dark Armpits

During pregnancy your body undergoes a multitude of hormonal changes, one of which is the increased production of melanin. You may notice dark or blotchy patches of skin on your upper lip, forehead, nose or armpits. A 2011 study by Bugando Medical Centre, Mwanza, Tanzania stated that skin hyper-pigmentation is common in pregnancy and can occur without any adverse consequences to the baby or mother.

10. Laser Treatment for Dark Armpits?

Q-switched ruby lasers can be used to treat dark skin under the arms, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. And according to the results of a 2008 study from Kyorin University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan a combined therapy using lasers and a bleaching treatment is effective at treating hyper-pigmentation of the skin.

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