I’ve heard a lot of complaints about deodorant over the past few years. “It doesn’t work,” “it’s sticky and gross,” and “it gets all over my clothes” are among the most common. But recently, two separate people brought an entirely new deo issue to my attention that I hadn’t heard before: The products they’d been using changed the color of their armpits.
Underarm discoloration, as I recently learned, is fairly common—it did, after all, happen to two people in my circle over the course of a month—and whatever you’re using to keep sweat and odor at bay could be to blame (the other option is a condition called acanthosis nigricans, which you can learn more about here). “Chemical irritation can be a significant factor for people who apply a lot of deodorants, antiperspirants, and perfumes, because these irritate the area, dry the skin, and promote a thickening of the dermis,” says board certified dermatopathologist, Gretchen Frieling, MD. And that thicker layer of skin can, in turn, look darker. “Many deodorants and antiperspirant sprays contain aluminum as an ingredient and can clog the pores, which causes further inflammation,” she adds. Board certified dermatologist Jeaneen Chappell, MD further explains that the most common cause of discoloration is either an irritation reaction to the antiperspirant element of a formula (which is usually aluminum) or to the deodorant itself. “These rashes induce low-grade inflammation which then cause increased pigment,” she says.
So irritation, generally, is the culprit here, and chemicals tend to be the main offenders. Dr. Frieling notes that you should stay away from any chemicals that could dry your skin. “Opt for natural deodorants that won’t add a layer of material to your skin that seals it in,” she says. She adds that our skin (especially those *~*moist*~* areas under our arms) needs to breathe.
But, says Dr. Chappell, just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily off the hook. “Many natural products aren’t fragrance free, for instance,” she cautions. “A good tip for those with sensitive skin: If you can pronounce the ingredients and it doesn’t have a smell, it might be worth a try.”
Another way to avoid the issue of discoloration is to keep armpit scrubbing to a minimum. “The skin in the armpit area is very sensitive, so constant scrubbing can agitate it and cause it to react by hardening and thickening; as a result, it becomes darker,” says Dr. Frieling. In other words, keep your loofah away from your armpits.
If you’re already dealing with hyperpigmentation, there are a few things you can do to remedy the situation. “You should be moisturizing with a natural skin-soothing cream,” says Dr. Frieling. “You can also lather with the natural gel of aloe vera, which is a rich moisturizer used for burns and scars that can help reduce inflammation and irritation in the area. Cucumbers are also a fresh way to soothe the skin.”
One thing you absolutely should not do? Try to “scrape off” the darkened skin. “Many people have the misconception that scraping at their armpits will lighten the skin, and it does the absolute opposite,” says Dr. Frieling. “So avoid over-exfoliating and using harsh razors in that area.” And if that doesn’t work, it’s probably worth a trip to the derm… and definitely a new deodorant.
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