Improper care and neglect can cause your underarms to smell and discolour. Here’s how to treat them right

Do you feel self-conscious in a sleeveless top because your underarms are constantly sweaty or shades darker than the rest of your arms? You’re not alone.

When it comes to maintaining a good skincare regime, the underarms are often neglected areas because they aren’t immediately visible. Without proper attention to the area, problems such as excessive sweat, odour, bumps and hyperpigmentation can become long-term issues or cause awkward social moments.

In Singapore’s tropical climate, having the right care routine is even more important as our bodies are exposed to constant heat and humidity. “In a warm and humid environment, accumulation of sweat in the folds of the skin such as the armpit can promote the growth of bacteria, fungi and yeast that can result in an odour or a rash. Sweat itself can also cause the delicate skin in our armpits to become irritated or macerated,” said Dr Evelyn Tay, Dermatologist at Shine Dermatology.

While sweating is important to help the body stay balanced, excessive sweating does cause issues. The thing is, sweat itself doesn’t actually smell. It only gains odour when the bacteria present on the skin interacts with the sweat and oils creating body odour.

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This is why a good underarm care routine is important. Proper cleansing, regular moisturising, along with the use of a suitable deodorant can address the issues. If the problems are recurrent or serious, consult a medical professional. So if you want to confidently raise your hands in the air like you just don’t care, here are some tips to tackle the common issues that can plague the pits:


(Photo: iStock)

Before going any further, what’s the difference between a deodorant and an antiperspirant? A deodorant protects against odour while an antiperspirant combats sweat and odour. It’s hard to get away without one of these products in our heat and humidity but to make it easier, pick one that is suitable for your needs and skin type.

Treat the delicate underarm skin with care, harsh products that can be tolerated elsewhere in the body may not be suitable for the underarms,” Dr Tay advised. “If you have sensitive skin, choose deodorants that are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free.”


(Photo: iStock)

“Darkening in the underarms can be due to either thickening of the skin in the area (a condition known as acanthosis nigricans) or an actual increase in the amount of pigmentation either due to friction, a previous rash or just simply constitutional pigmentation,” said Dr Tay.

To treat it, she suggested using gentle, medical-grade skincare, such as cysteamine, that can be used to lighten pigmentation. “There are also lasers that are effective in evening out the skin tone and reducing the build-up of pigmentation,” she added.

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“Bumpy skin in the under arms is often due to inflammation around the hair follicles, which can occur as a result of ingrown hairs post tweezing, shaving or waxing,” explained Dr Tay. She cautioned against tweezing to remove ingrown hairs and said that if it’s a recurrent issue, laser hair removal is a good option. “When the hair grows out fewer and finer, the risk of developing folliculitis from ingrown hairs also drops,” she added.


Getting smooth, blemish-free pits requires a good, fuss-free regime – here’s how:

  • Cleanse, tone and moisturise
(Photo: iStock)

Keep in mind that the skin in your underarms is sensitive, so clean it with gentle soaps and don’t be aggressive. When picking cleansers for your body, keep your underarms in mind so you can maintain the pH balance of the skin.

While it may not be top of your mind, the occasional toning and moisturising can work wonders for your underarms, too. And you can do it at the same time as your skincare regime for your face. A gentle toner can help to remove bacteria as well as leftover residue from deodorants and antiperspirants, while applying body lotion once or twice a week can keep your underarms smooth and supple.

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  • Gentle does it
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Whether you’re waxing, shaving, or using other hair removal techniques, be gentle. If you are shaving with a razor, use a shaving gel or cream and be sure to use well-sharpened razors or you may end up with micro-tears in your skin that can lead to infections. Switch to a new blade about every five uses or so and keep the blade out of the shower so that it can dry thoroughly and avoid rust. 

Post-care is all important as bumps, in-grown hair and rashes can develop after hair removal. In all forms of hair removal, keeping the skin hydrated post-removal is important to reduce the risk of irritation when new hair grows out. Reducing friction and minimising perspiration are also important,” explained Dr Tay.

  • Slough off and mask
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Just like the rest of your body, your underarms can benefit from exfoliation. It can help to remove dead skin cells, which prevents odour-causing build-up. You can try masks or scrubs that manually remove dead skin cells or a glycolic toner (no more than five per cent glycolic acid) to gently improve the skin’s texture.

But don’t forget to “moisturise with a lightweight moisturiser in a lotion base after any form of exfoliation”, said Dr Tay.

Every time you’re putting on a facial sheet mask, you can do the same for the underarms, it can help to hydrate the area or help to remove build-up from the use of products.

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  • Let them breathe
(Photo: iStock)

The constant use of deodorant and rough fabrics can irritate the underarms, especially immediately after hair removal. Whenever you can, give your underarms a break from perfumes, deodorants or hair removal procedures. Choose clothes in natural fibres or synthetic fabrics that are lightweight and breathable. If you’re prone to sweating, Dr Tay advised opting for clothes that are loose around the armpits.

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