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How to Get Rid of Underarm Hyperpigmentation? | Dr. Sanober Doctor

By Dr. Sanober Doctor
October 27, 2023
6 minutes

Before we dive into the ins and outs of underarm pigmentation, remember Photoshop ads have made many people believe almost everyone has clear and smooth underarms. If you belong the people of skin color and you’ve got some hair or even underarm pigmentation it’s okay. With so much misinformation about this topic on social media, this article will help you demystify the facts from lies.

Some people go to extremes to lighten their underarm’s dark skin which shouldn’t be the case. Others are even doing skin lightening on babies which has devastating effects. Due to the embarrassment that comes with dark underarms – darker than the rest of the body- people are becoming more conscious and are out seeking the best treatment to banish underarm hyperpigmentation.

Everyone wants to wear sleeveless shirts, and bathing suits in public, or participate in sports wearing sleeveless sports kits. Regretfully, dark underarms are a hindrance to this freedom.

In this article, we’ll discuss the causes of underarm pigmentation, the best ways you can use to lighten an existing underarm pigmentation, and how to prevent underarm pigmentation.

Causes of Underarm Pigmentation

Hyperpigmentation is a combination of two words: hyper + pigmentation. Hyper means more and pigmentation in which case “pigment” means color. Hyperpigmentation can appear as a spot or patches either in grey, black, brown, or pink color. In summary, underarm hyperpigmentation refers to the increase in the pigmentation of the skin around the underarms.

Normally, your underarms should appear in the same color as the rest of the body. Hyperpigmentation may be a result of chemical irritants present in deodorants and antiperspirants. Irritation and abrasion caused by shaving, accumulation of dead skin cells due to infrequent exfoliation, friction caused by wearing tight clothes, and conditions like Melasma Acanthosis are what cause hyperpigmentation underarms.

To breakdown these causes into a simpler and more understandable manner as to why underarm hyperpigmentation or why underarm darkening takes place let’s classify them into the following:

  1. Physiological or normal causesPhysiological or normal causes

Physiological causes simply refer to underarm hyperpigmentation that occurs because of certain body evolution changes during your life. It’s very normal during puberty or pregnancy for certain areas of our body to develop increased pigmentation than the rest of the body and the underarms especially are one area largely affected.

Developing certain pigmentation over the cheeks in the perioral area, around the nipples, and in the groins are some of the areas you’ll notice as a woman as you undergo hormonal changes. There can be slightly increased darkening in these areas.

But apart from these normal reasons, the main reasons for increased underarm pigmentation, in general, are two:

a)  Melanocytes

These are cells responsible for producing the pigment melanin and they can get triggered due to various reasons. Due to certain hormonal imbalances, or hormonal changes, they can get stimulated because of an infection or any condition that can lead to inflammation.

Remember, if you belong to skin type 4-6,  there is a very high chance of hyperpigmentation in case of any sort of inflammation. Inflammation means there’s basically an increase in blood supply and an increase in white blood cells and killer cells that are going to come to take care, or whatever the problem is in that area.

And because of that increased blood supply and increased activity that’s occurring between the body and the other foreign substance that’s trying to get inside, it stimulates the melanocytes present in the basil layer of our skin thus causing irritation. The irritation often leads to higher chances of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).

So, out of the factors enumerated before, the cause of hyperpigmentation is because of irritational stimulation of the melanocytes to produce small melanin. There are also some possible certain conditions like Acanthosis Nigricans especially where skin thickness has increased that can lead to hyperpigmentation.

It’s believed that the increased darkness we see in such areas is because of the increased skin thickness and not because the melanocytes are producing more melanin.

b) Acanthosis nigricans

Acanthosis nigricans is a common skin condition that leads to darkening and it has a velvety characteristic appearance on the skin. It’s commonly seen over the back of the nape of the neck, near the underarms, and even the groins.

If you see an increase in skin thickness and hyperpigmentation you should know there’s an underlying condition. This could be a sign of obesity, metabolism disorder, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. To effectively treat hyperpigmentation, analyze the real underlying cause and deal with it first.

Now let’s look at the various ways of preventing underarm hyperpigmentation.

Prevention of Underarm Darkening

1. Stop using a razor when shaving underarms

If you’re used to shaving underarms, and your dermatologist has ruled out all other causes discussed before that could lead to the increase in underarm pigmentation, consider changing to an alternative form of hair removal like waxing, and IPL hair removal.

IPL stands for Intensive Pulse Light. It’s a safe hair removal method and has no side effects like ingrown hair caused by shaving. That’s why dermatologists usually recommend the Sapphire Air3 at-home IPL hair removal device from Ulike.

Among the reasons you should avoid shaving is because it increases the chances of ingrown hair. These are small tiny hairs that get trapped in the opening from which the hair actually grows. The trapped hair itself appears darker and it gives an illusion of dark in the underarms or dark in the armpits. Ingrown hairs also irritate the skin and any form of irritation will lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Stop using a razor when shaving underarms

There’s also a possibility the metal used in certain razors does have Nickel in it. Nickel is a common ingredient used in most metallic alloys to produce many things. Nickel allergies are the most common form of allergies that cause contact dermatitis.

If you’re allergic to certain metallic materials, repeated contact with the razor when shaving is likely to cause minor levels of inflammation which over time triggers the melanocytes thus causing a widespread hyperpigmentation. Shaving with a razor can also cause minor cuts if not done in the right direction. These minor cuts can again lead to inflammation.

To prevent dark pigmentation in armpits, stop using a razor to shave the armpits. The at-home IPL hair removal devices for underarms tackle all the hair from the roots in any part of your body. And since the intense pulse light destroys the hair follicles, it takes at least 4 weeks to regrow. With consistent use of any of the IPL at-home hair removal devices, the hair stops regrowing leaving the skin smooth and hair-free.

2. Avoid scrubbing the skin

Avoid scrubbing the skin

Stop using a physical exfoliator to scrub your skin as it irritates the melanocytes which are present below the skin’s surface. This is because it produces more melanin which in turn causes pigmentation.

3. Stop using products with fragrances

If using products with fragrances and certain natural deodorants doesn’t work for you and there are certain ingredients like sodium bicarbonate is an irritant to your skin. Look for an alternative natural deodorant and antiperspirants that will work on your skin without causing skin irritation.

Always do a patch test on the inner surface of your arm or on the thigh whenever you buy a new skincare product before using it on your underarms. Alternatively, switch to a clean fragrance and free deodorants or skincare products free of baking soda


To get rid of underarm hyperpigmentation, start using topicals. It’ll take three to six months to see effective sustainable results. Topicals with niacinamides, vitamin C especially Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (THD), and ascorbic generally work well on sensitive skin.

Other skincare ingredients you’ll find helpful when getting rid of underarm hyperpigmentation include licorice, kojic acid, and Alpha Arbutin.

Dr. Sanober Doctor
Sanober Pezad Doctor is a double-board certified dermatologist, & a leading expert in Integrative and holistic Dermatology. She is the face behind the popular YouTube channel- Healthy Aging with Dr. Doctor. She is also the founder & creator of ‘AGEnesis™- The Holistic Aging Blueprint’ & ‘Baby SkinWise™- the World's 1st Audiovisual Skincare Guide for Parents‘.
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