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How to Lighten Underarms: Causes & Treatments

How to Lighten Underarms: Causes & Treatments

What is underarm hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation or darkening under the armpits is a common cause of anxiety for many patients, especially ladies. Dark underarms can be frustrating and cause them to lose self-esteem.

It is a typically harmless condition, in which skin produces extra melanin (pigment), leading to the appearances of brown, gray, or black spots on the body. It can happen in all types of skin tones, though it tends to appear more often in darker-skin individuals.

Causes of underarm hyperpigmentation:

  • Friction – Tight clothing, repeated shaving and waxing may potentially darken the skin over time. This is because friction can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. The skin gets irritated due to repeated friction. As part of its healing process, the skin darkens, giving underarm hyperpigmentation.
  • Skin disease/allergy – There are several inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema that can give post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation as well. Allergy to products like deodorant can also cause darkening of the skin in the armpits. Fungal infection may also cause hyperpigmentation. The overgrowth of yeast interferes with the skin’s pigment production, resulting in hyperpigmentation.
  • Acanthosis Nigricans – acanthosis nigricans is a medical condition that leads to thickening and darkening of the skin. This is usually more common on the neck, but it can also occur in the armpits. It may reflect an underlying insulin resistance and can mean the patient is potentially at risk for having diabetes. It can also be seen in people who have medical conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome. Sometimes, medications like insulin and steroid can cause acanthosis nigricans as well.
  • Genetics – Sometimes, the condition of underarm darkening runs in the family. The darkening may become more worse when one ages. Hormonal changes such as pregnancy can lead to darkening of pigments as well. Some women are more prone to such a phenomenon.
  • Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) – Increased moisture in the underarm area can lead to irritation of the skin. This can therefore cause hyperpigmentation for some individuals.

sweaty underarms

Lifestyle management can play a role in reduction of hyperpigmentation at the armpits. This includes:

  • Minimize shaving or waxing of the armpits as they can be quite harsh to the skill. A better alternative would be to consider laser hair removal.
  • Do not scrub, rub or exfoliate the area under the armpits.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing that can rub against the armpit, especially during sporting exercise like running that can potentially create more friction while running.
  • Avoid deodorants or fragrances that can cause allergy or irritation to the skin, especially if one applies them to the underarms. Fragrance-free moisturising creams can be considered to avoid allergy, irritation, and inflammation in the area.

Types of underarm whitening treatments

Home remedies

Some natural products have been suggested to be able to help underarm whitening. They include potato, milk, lemon, egg york oil, coconut oil and tea tree oil. However, how much they can truly improve pigments is debatable. There are several medicines that contain active ingredients that research has shown to help in lightening pigments. These medicine usually contain hydroquinone, tretinoin (retinoic acid) ,azelaic acid or kojic acid.

Medical treatments

Diagnosing and treating the underlying skin condition at the underarms, if any, can help to potentially reduce underarm hyperpigmentation.

Antifungals can treat fungal infections and rashes. Topical steroid creams can help to reduce inflammation in eczema. Similarly, creams and other medications can be used to treat psoriasis. Patch testing to test for skin allergies can be helpful to narrow down the potential causes of allergic products. By avoiding those skin products that can cause allergic reaction, it can help to prevent worsening of skin irritation and therefore, hyperpigmentation. To treat excessive sweating at the underarms, a course of Botox as well as INFINI at The Clifford Clinic can help to treat hyperhidrosis, therefore leading to improvement for the underarm pigments.

Other than medications, The Clifford Clinic uses two main medical treatments that are recommended to treat underarm hyperpigmentation. There are the Pink Intimate system as well as pigment lasers like Pico and Q-switch.

The Pink Intimate system functions like a chemical peel that can help to not only lighten sensitive areas like the genitals, but also at the underarms. It is formulated using ingredients that promote skin lightening. The ingredients include glutathione (antioxidant), rucinol (treats hyperpigmentation) and kojic acid (promotes lightening). In addition to lightening the skin, the Pink Intimate System also contains ingredients like Retinol (vitamin A) and Bisabolol (skin-soothing agent) that are equally beneficial to the skin. These ingredients help to restore and soothe the skin during treatment. One session of a Pink Intimate system treatment takes about 45 to 60 minutes to complete.

Pico and Q-switch lasers are also important to help lighten underarm hyperpigmentation. Such lasers have shown good improvement for pigments on the face, like melasma, freckles and sunspots. In a similar fashion, they can help to treat underarm hyperpigmentation. The pico and Q-switch laser treatments work by the principles of selective photo-thermolysis. The laser generates laser pulse at a specific wavelength on the targeted area. The pigments are broken down in smaller fragments and subsequently cleared away by the body. There is no downtime to the lasers. Most patients can resume normal activities after treatment sessions. Multiple sessions are usually required to see good improvement and clearance. For hyperpigmentation by acanthosis nigricans, the long-pulsed laser has also shown to be a good option to help lighten the pigments.

How soon can you start seeing results?

You can start seeing results from as early as 3-5 sessions of laser but to see really good results, one may require up to 10 sessions of laser and a combination of Pink Intimate System. The results are permanent.

If you are feeling self-conscious of your dark underarms, you may call in to 6532 2400 to schedule an appointment with our doctors.

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