Armpit Skin Discoloration

young woman using shaving armpit in bathroom
A young woman shaving her armpits in the bathroom. (Image: Alliance/iStock/Getty Images)

Discolored armpit skin can be embarrassing, affecting clothing choices and even participation in activities such as going to the beach or a pool. Prominence of skin discoloration in the armpit area varies widely among individuals. The discoloration has a variety of causes, most of which are easily treatable. Darkened skin is usually not cause for immediate concern, but in some cases it can signal underlying health problems that need to be addressed.

Causes

There are five main causes of armpit skin discoloration, suggests The Beauty Brains website. Stubble just below the surface of the skin from shaving can give skin in the armpit area a darkened appearance. Skin can discolor due to a buildup of dead skin cells under the arm. Skin conditions such as eczema or hyperpigmentation can be the cause. Discoloration can be a reaction to ingredients in antiperspirants and deodorants, or the problem could stem from a medical condition such as acanthosis nigricans.

Susceptibility

Anyone can be affected by skin discoloration under the arms, though it is more visible in people with darker skin tones. Women of Hispanic and African descent are the most susceptible to underarm discoloration. Acanthosis nigricans and skin conditions can appear at any age. Obviously, there is more opportunity for armpit skin discoloration in those old enough to shave and use deodorants and antiperspirants.

As Symptom/Side Effect

Acanthosis nigricans is characterized by darkened skin folds and creases, typically appearing under the arms and around the neck and groin. It is often a symptom of elevated insulin levels, as with Type 2 diabetes or obesity, but it can also be inherited. A doctor can diagnose acanthosis nigricans with a skin exam -- in rare instances, a biopsy may be performed -- and further testing will determine the underlying cause. Acanthosis nigricans and darkened underarms are also associated with Addison disease, growth hormone therapy, pituitary disorders, hypothyroidism, oral contraceptives and certain cholesterol medications such as nicotinic acid.

Treatment

If armpit skin discoloration is the result of shaving, the solution is to switch to waxing or pluck hairs instead of shaving them. When dead skin cells are the cause, the problem can usually be resolved by periodically exfoliating with a product that contains lactic acid. Underlying skin conditions will require different treatments. Cosmetic concealers and skin bleachers -- ensure they're made with hydroquinone -- are available. In more extreme cases, chemical peels and laser surgery can be used as a remedy. A change in deodorant or antiperspirant brands can be effective in instances of irritation. Diseases or conditions such as acanthosis nigricans can be treated by treating the underlying cause, and discoloration can be lessened in the same ways as with other skin conditions.

Warnings

Changes in the appearance of skin, especially when they come suddenly, can be a sign of underlying medical conditions that require treatment. While acanthosis nigricans may mean insulin levels are too high, changes in skin's color or texture can also be a symptom of skin cancer. Early detection of skin cancer significantly increases the chances of successful treatment, so seeing your doctor right away is essential if you notice suspicious changes to the appearance of your skin.

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