How to Get Rid of Dark Armpits, from Skin Science Experts

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Discolored underarms are usually a cosmetic issue and nothing more serious, but that doesn't mean you have to make peace with them. Our Health Editor and a dermatologist explain how to safely lighten the area before summer arrives.

Have darkened underarms prevented you from rocking the tank tops and sleeveless dresses you want to wear? If you’ve spent time wondering how to get rid of dark armpits—and too embarrassed to discuss it—then you may feel some reassurance from hearing this: darkly pigmented armpits are actually way more common than you might think.

More good news? There are some steps you can take to help lighten them back up so they blend naturally with the rest of your complexion.

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Why Have Your Armpits Darkened?

First, the good news: Dark armpits are common and usually a purely cosmetic issue—nothing to be ashamed of. So, for starters, you don’t have to get rid of them unless you want to.

Most frequently, dark armpits are a form of hyperpigmentation that’s most prevalent in deeper complexions, explains Dr. Geeta Yadav, M.D., FRCPC, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Science Dermatology in Toronto, Ontario. “It’s exacerbated by irritation, such as skin rubbing together or shaving. In both cases, the darker skin is caused by increased melanin production.” (Read The 7 Products a Dermatologist Suggests to Get Rid of Razor Burn in Armpits)

It’s important to note, Dr. Yadav adds, that there could also be an underlying medical condition causing the skin color. “In some cases, dark armpits can be caused by a condition known as acanthosis nigricans, which is characterized by darker, thicker skin in areas where the body creases, like the armpits, genitals and thighs, elbows, and knees,” says Dr. Yadav. “Though acanthosis nigricans is not dangerous, it could be an indication of another health issue, such as prediabetes.” If you think it’s possible that’s the case, talk to your physician.

How to Prevent Dark Armpits

In many cases, dark armpits are hereditary and can’t be avoided, explains Dr. Yadav. But reducing irritation in the area, especially the kind shaving causes, will significantly reduce the risk of developing dark armpits and inhibit future damage.

If you don’t want to stop hair removal in the area altogether, talk to your dermatologist about laser hair removal or electrolysis. These procedures will damage the hair follicles and prevent future growth, which eventually can make make shaving unnecessary. Not everyone is a good candidate for laser hair removal, however, so it’s wise to consult with a licensed dermatologist before you book a treatment.

Other lifestyle changes that may help include wearing looser-fitting clothes to prevent excess friction, exfoliating the area, trying a more natural deodorant, and weight loss. “In the case of obesity, weight loss can go a long way toward preventing future darkening in the armpits and in other areas, such as the inner thighs,” says Dr. Yadav. “Not only is melanin production increased in those who are overweight, the friction caused by skin rubbing together can cause hyperpigmentation. Weight loss will reduce both.”

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How to Get Rid of Dark Armpits

First things first: if you’re concerned about having dark armpits, find out if there may be an undiagnosed medical condition to blame. “It’s important to work with your dermatologist or general practitioner to determine if there is an underlying concern, because treating that will improve the appearance of dark armpits,” says Dr. Yadav.

If you’ve been cleared medically, then you can safely start down the path of figuring out how to get rid of dark armpits. And for some, that may be through medical treatments.

“Lightening armpits at home can be a challenging endeavor; the best method for lightening armpits would be prescription topical agents or professional laser treatments, performed by a dermatologist,” confirms Dr. Yadav. “Otherwise, using topical treatments that include brightening ingredients like niacinamide, tranexamic acid, vitamin C serum, licorice root extract, kojic acid, or arbutin can help.”

Before you choose a medical route to get rid of dark armpits, it may be wise to at least give one of these over-the-counter options a shot.

Dove Even Tone Restoring Powder

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One of the most affordable option is Dove’s Even Tone Restoring Powder. It contains brightening niacinamide, and Dr. Yadav says this formula is ultra-moisturizing to help reduce the chafing that can cause hyperpigmentation. You can also consider crystal deodorant if you’re looking for something natural.

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Musely The Private Cream

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“This prescription-strength formula is especially designed to target hyperpigmentation in sensitive areas, including the armpits,” says Dr. Yadav. Musely offers two formulations: a more potent version that contains hydroquinone and niacinamide, or a gentler option that uses niacinamide and tranexamic acid, a tyrosinase inhibitor (tyrosinase is the enzyme that triggers melanin production). Either way, you can get a prescription through a licensed dermatologist.

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DermaDoctor Total Nonscents Ultra Gentle Brightening Antiperspirant

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“DermaDoctor is a brand founded by a dermatologist, so I trust the formulations,” says Dr. Yadav. “This antiperspirant contains a kojic acid derivative to help gently brighten the armpits without irritation.”

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LovelySkin PFB Vanish + Chromabright

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“This roll-on treatment was actually designed to be used directly after shaving to reduce hyperpigmentation caused by razor irritation,” says Dr. Yadav.

In addition to exfoliating, skin-brightening ingredients like glycolic and lactic acids, it contains an ingredient called Dimethylmethoxy Chromanyl Palmitate, which decreases tyrosinase activity.

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TruSkin Niacinamide Facial Serum

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Just because it says “facial” serum, doesn’t mean you can’t use this on other patches of skin, like your armpits. TruSkin is powered by Niacinamide (vitamin B3), and this formulation also includes hyaluronic acid for hydration. That means it should help brighten any discoloration without drying out this sensitive armpit area.

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Jill Schildhouse
As Health Editor at The Healthy, Jill Schildhouse is an expert in health and wellness, beauty, consumer products and product reviews, travel, and personal finance. She has spent the last 20 years as an award-winning lifestyle writer and editor for a variety of national print and digital publications.