It's bathing suit season and few things are as infuriating as discoloration in areas that are easy to see. While many women don't think twice about raising their arms in glee, or relaxing by the pool with their arms behind their heads, for many others, every move is incredibly calculated to ensure that their two-toned skin is not exposed. This can be incredibly mentally taxing and unfairly keeps women from feeling comfortable in their own skin. This is also much more likely to happen in women with brown skin. Read below for three common causes of skin discoloration and how you can address them:
1. Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)- this is likely the most common cause of skin discoloration in the underarms and is the result of repeated irritation to the skin. The skin in the underarms is incredibly sensitive and is easily irritated in most people. Ever have a bug bite or acne mark turn dark brown before it fades? Then you are at risk of getting PIH in the underarms too. Shaving is a MAJOR culprit for this, as repeated shaving creates microscopic trauma to the skin (ever spray perfume right after you shave-OUCH!). Try minimizing shaving as much as possible (like once every 2-4 weeks), especially when you don't think your underarms will be exposed. For some women that may mean (safely) waxing the underarms or even using a gentle depilatory cream. You can even consider laser hair removal (which is actually less traumatic to the skin), so that you can avoid shaving altogether. If you insist on shaving, consider applying a thin layer of over the counter hydrocortisone ointment, just once immediately after shaving to decrease inflammation. For some people who are really sensitive, even deodorant can irritate the skin. This daily, repeated irritation over time leads to significant darkening that can take months or years to fade. If you react to deodorants, consider switching deodorants that are hypoallergenic and less likely to cause a reaction. These are not quite as strong as regular deodorants but will certainly help your color in the long run. After you have eliminated irritants, considering trying products with the following ingredients to reverse discoloration.
Hydroquinone-this can only be used for up to 3 months at a time
2. Acanthosis Nigricans- this condition is another common cause of discoloration in the underarms but is most commonly seen on the back of the neck. It is typically associated with conditions such as obesity and insulin intolerance or pre-diabetes. Women with a condition called PCOS are also more likely to have this. In this condition, multiple layers of skin build up and more pigmented gets produced making this a two-fold issue. If you have NO skin sensitivity at all, you can consider using a gentle exfoliating brush or scrub to help over time. However, the most effective treatment for this is weight loss and glucose control. If you've noticed worsening discoloration on the neck and underarms associated with weight increase, consider seeing your doctor to discuss other treatments options that can help.
3.Physiologic discoloration- this is another common cause of discoloration on the underarms but probably the most frustrating because there is not much to do about it. That's because physiologic darkening just refers to discoloration that's a natural part of having brown skin. This means avoiding this is as constructive as avoid a tan when you walk outdoors, its very, very difficult. Some women have noticed a nearly lifelong history of darker brown skin in a variety of areas, especially areas where there's more skin on skin contact. Some of this is natural and is difficult to avoid. Minimizing your risk of developing the causes from above is the most helpful strategy but loving the skin you're in is the most satisfying in the long run.