Underarm razor burn is, quite literally, the pits. Swapping your hair for a breakout of bumps is nobody’s idea of a fair trade. So what causes those irritating red dots to rise up in the first place?
“The underarm is a delicate, thin-skinned area. Unfortunately, this makes it [a prime place] for razor burn,” says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. “The most common trigger is aggressive or inappropriate shaving techniques.”
It’s true going to town with your twin-blade is likely to leave you feeling the burn—but it’s not the only culprit that could be at fault.
Scroll down to see 7 surprising (yet common) other reasons for your skin irritation.
While removing dead skin’s necessary to avoid issues like ingrown hairs, doing it too close to a shave can cause razor burn. “Roughly using scrubs and body loofahs can be very irritating to the hair follicles and skin in the armpits,” says Dr. Nazarian. Her best advice is to be gentle and not scrub and shave in the same shower sesh.
2. Dull razors
Add “changing your razors” to the list of things you need to do on the reg (right after “washing your sports bras” and “swapping out your sneakers“). According to Dr. Nazarian, you should be tossing yours after only a few uses. “Always use a sharp, clean razor to minimize tugging on hair follicles, and keep the number of blades to two—maximum,” she says.
The best thing you can do to avoid a full-blown rash? Shave at the end of your shower, when your skin is the most hydrated, using a clean, sharp razor, and unscented moisturizing wash. And if you cut yourself? “Clean the area with antibacterial soap,” says Dr. Nazarian. Otherwise, the microbes in your underarms could infect the area—compounding an already painful problem should your skin become inflamed.
“Fragrant deodorants are more likely to irritate the armpits—so swap yours for a [natural, unscented option instead],” suggests the derm. And keep your applications to a minimum: “All anti-perspirants can dry and inflame skin if overused.”
According to Dr. Nazarian, sweating can irritate and break down delicate skin. So while hot summer days are great for beach trips and eating superfood-packed popsicles, they could also be one of the reasons your razor rash gets worse this time of year.
6. Itchy fabrics
If your top’s rubbing you the wrong way, it’s possibly adding to your armpit irritation. Consider putting some distance between you and “stiff fabrics or those that prevent proper cooling such as polyblend,” advises the MD. Either add an airy layer of cotton between you and them, or opt for sleeveless versions to reduce the friction. Just remember sunscreen, so you don’t swap one burn for another.
While having a signature scent is nice, just be mindful of spraying yours too close to your exposed armpits. Fragrances are one of the leading causes of skin irritation. And according to Dr. Nazarian, it’s not just perfumes you need think about: Shaving with gels or creams that include synthetic smells can also irritate your underarms. For the smoothest shave, she suggests going au naturel with your products whenever possible.
Now that it’s officially tank-top season, try this super-simple, two-ingredient underarm detox to give yours a seasonal refresh. And read up on what your armpits might be saying about your health.