Are you the type of person who can confidently don a sleeveless top and throw your arms up without feeling the least bit self-conscious? It’s ok if your answer is no. If you’ve ever noticed any dark, ashy, or even scaly patches on your underarms, you are not alone. Underarms are a commonly overlooked and neglected part of the body. Beyond a swipe of deodorant in the morning, the majority of people skip skin care on their underarms altogether. But, your underarms are very delicate and are prone to a lot of friction, and that’s why they need some skin care too.
What’s the Deal With My Underarms?
The skin on your underarms is very thin — similar to the skin on the back of your hand. That means they have less collagen and elastin, making your underarms more prone to irritation, damage, and even visible signs of aging.
What is one thing we all know about underarms? They sweat.
Combine friction, thin skin, heat, and moisture… and that is a recipe for a rash. The reason your underarms sweat more than other parts of your body is because they contain many sweat glands very close to each other. And, right next to those sweat glands are a bunch of hair follicles. Even if you shave (we’ll get to that later) those follicles are still there waiting to be clogged with sweat and create ingrown hairs. For most people, the only attention we give underarms is applying layer after layer of deodorant. So if the sweat doesn’t clog your pores, the deodorant certainly will, which can also lead to irritation and leave buildup on your delicate skin. On top of that, add friction from clothing, tight undergarments, repeated shaving… Needless to say, your tender underarms are in desperate need of some self-care.
Skin Care for Underarms
Self-care on your underarms may sound silly, but think about how much more we know about skin care than our grandmothers did. Back in the day, it was common to simply use a washcloth and bar of soap. But we have so much more information at our fingertips. Thanks to new discoveries and more advanced products on the market, we are now well versed in moisturizer, cleansing without stripping, oils, serums, masks, hyaluronic acid, retinol, and more. But, whether you’re a skin care beginner or full blown expert, you may still be skipping skin care on your underarms.
Usually, rule number one for skin care is moisturize, but no one expects you to put lotion on top of your deodorant only to spend the day sweating it out into your shirt. The first step is to keep your armpits clean and dry. Then apply deodorant with moisturizing ingredients to help keep your skin nourished while keeping you odor-free.
A Word About Deodorant
When I say deodorant, I mean deodorant, not antiperspirant. Antiperspirants have ingredients like aluminum that prevent you from sweating. But sweating is your body’s natural way of cooling down and releasing toxins. Even if you prefer to stay dry, it’s better to sweat than to hold those toxins in, especially so close to your lymph nodes. Just beneath the thin skin of your underarms are some lymph nodes that help your body fight infections — best not to hoard any toxins near those.
Deodorants don’t block sweat, instead they aim to neutralize and mask odor. The best deodorants have ingredients designed to kill odor-causing bacteria, so even if you sweat, you won’t smell. As stated above, you want to find a deodorant that nourishes your skin while keeping the smell at bay.
Moisturizing Ingredients You Want In a Deodorant:
- Aloe Vera is going to help hydrate your skin, but it is also naturally antibacterial — meaning it will also help neutralize any odor on top of soothing your underarms.
- Shea butter moisturizes and prevents chapped, cracked, or dry skin. It contains vitamin A and K which can help diminish the look of skin discoloration and the severity of bruising. And it’s also naturally antibacterial, so it too can help neutralize odor.
- Coconut oil is incredibly gentle on sensitive skin. Just like aloe and shea butter, it is a hydrating moisturizer and a natural antibacterial that works well in deodorant.
Drying Ingredients You Want to AVOID in a Deodorant:
- Alcohol: I know you want to keep your underarms dry, and it seems counterintuitive, but you really want to keep them moisturized. Sweat is going to happen, it’s natural. Drying out the skin does not prevent sweat, but it does set your underarms up for irritation.
- Artificial fragrance: Even certain essential oils can be too harsh on your skin if not used with the proper carrier oil. Artificial fragrances are more harsh and drying, which can lead to rashes, sores, and inflamed angry skin.
- Parabens are preservatives added to skin care to prolong their shelf life, but they have been proven to cause itchy, irritated, dry skin, advance the aging process, and, in some serious cases, cause contact dermatitis — a severely inflamed rash.
Wait, Should I Not Shave My Underarms?
If you shave, use a fresh blade and try not to repeatedly go over the same delicate spot. It’s all too common to shave against the direction of hair growth hoping for a “closer shave,” but the difference is nominal. Shave IN the direction of hair growth to prevent irritation and razor burn. Also, do yourself a favor and use shaving cream. Soap and water, or even just water alone, dry out your skin and set you up to nick yourself or cause razor burn more easily. With underarms already being prone to rash, irritation, inflammation, shaving intensifies the problem 10-fold.
Be mindful. Your armpits aren’t often seen which makes them very easy to overlook and neglect. Many of us are all guitly of grabbing a dull razor and quickly swiping it a few too many times on our underarms so we can wear that sleeveless dress tonight. Take time and care. Repeated and sloppy shaving is going to lead to a rash or worsen and inflame irritation that’s already there from friction or a tight bra or any of the other things that plague your underarms.
How to Take Care of Your Underarms
So far, we covered that you should use a moisturizing deodorant. And, if you shave, implement the proper shaving techniques. In the shower, clean your underarms with a gentle soap or cleanser and keep them as clean and dry as possible throughout the day without preventing your body from sweating. That’s the baseline. Even with all these techniques, you still might notice some red bumps or itchy swelling. Underarms can be an uphill battle. With the skin being so sensitive, it’s a wonder we have overlooked skin care on our underarms for so long. There is one more surprising step in underarm care that is probably already a part of your skin care routine for your face. Exfoliation! That’s right. You should be exfoliating your underarms once a week. But before we cover how to best exfoliate your underarms, let’s talk about what exfoliation is and why it’s necessary.
What is Exfoliation?
Exfoliation is sloughing off dead skin cells and stubborn dirt from the skin’s surface. Your skin renews its own cells as a part of its natural regeneration process. Exfoliation washes the dead skin cells away instead of leaving them on your skin to dull your complexion. Exfoliation also helps unblock clogged pores, which keeps your skin looking cleaner and brighter. With that layer of dead skin cells and dirt gone, your skin can absorb products and treatments more deeply, meaning exfoliation also makes the rest of your skin care work harder. There are two different types of exfoliation, physical exfoliation and chemical exfoliation.
What is Physical Exfoliation?
Physical exfoliation uses tools to manually scrub your dead skin cells away. Those tools are scrubs, brushes, loofahs, etc…Anything with a bit of grit or texture to help wash away dead skin and dirt.
Physical exfoliation practices have been around for hundreds of years. Most popular right now is the Korean practice of soaking your skin in hot water and then scrubbing layers of dead skin away with a rough mitt. Dry brushing is also a trend, that uses a bristled brush with no water on your arms and legs. It’s not only good for exfoliation but also stimulating blood circulation to your extremities. And scrubs from coarse grit to fine always come and go.
While these techniques are effective on certain parts of your body, they are not safe for sensitive skin and are NEVER safe to use on your face. Loofahs, scrubs, and brushes are way too harsh for your face and can cause micro tears in your skin, leading to damage and visible signs of aging.
What is Chemical Exfoliation?
Chemical exfoliation does not involve any scrubbing at all. It uses chemical exfoliants such as Alpha-hydroxy acids, Beta-hydroxy acids, and enzymes to delicately slough off dead skin. If you’re new to AHAs and BHAs, the idea of putting acid on your face might have you running for the hills, but chemical exfoliation is much gentler than physical exfoliation and as a result, is much safer for your face. If your skin is sensitive, start with BHAs, which are the less intense hydroxy acids, and enzymes. Introduce AHAs to your skin slowly to ensure the best results. These acids are gentle enough to rid you of dead skin cells without damaging the fresh new skin cells beneath.
How Do I Exfoliate My Underarms?
As we’ve already learned, the skin on your underarms is incredibly sensitive. So, we don’t advise you to exfoliate with a grainy scrub or harsh brush. Instead, you should treat your underarms as delicately as you treat your face and stick to a chemical exfoliant. And when it comes to chemical exfoliants, you’ve got a lot of options:
- Glycolic Acid can help visibly improve the texture of your skin while reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
- Lactic Acid can brighten the skin and make it appear firmer, while also reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
- Salicylic Acid is less intense. It is a smart place to start if you’re new to chemical exfoliants. You’ll still see results, but they may take a bit longer to show up than the more powerful options. Salicylic acid is particularly good at keeping hair follicles clear, and we know there are plenty of hair follicles hanging out in your armpit.
- Enzymes eat away the protein bond that keeps dead skin cells attached to the skin’s surface. Enzymes are a non abrasive way to break that bond and wash away the dead skin clinging to and dulling the appearance of your skin.
These chemical exfoliants can be used on their own, but also work well in tandem. Just make sure to do a small test patch on your skin to ensure you don’t have any negative reaction, and take it slow. Chemical exfoliants are safe and gentle enough to use everyday, but you need to work your way up to that to be sure not to overwhelm your skin.
After your next shower, take the chemical exfoliant of your choice, a cotton ball, and delicately apply it along your underarms. Remember, this skin is incredibly sensitive, so a little goes a long way. The chemical exfoliant will rejuvenate the skin on your armpits in 3 ways:
- It will gently slough off dead skin cells and buildup. Unlike those scrubs that can cause micro-tears on your skin, this will help treat any scaly patches, dark spots, and buildup without worsening irritation or inflaming your delicate underarms.
- It’s also a humectant that locks in moisture — giving you exfoliation and hydration all in one. Moisture keeps your underarms nourished and helps prevent irritation caused by dryness and friction.
- And finally, it helps balance your pH and neutralize odor-causing bacteria. Using a chemical exfoliant on your underarms once a week will make your deodorant work harder for you, meaning less stinky, sweaty armpits and more supple, smooth, and balanced-looking underarms.
Chemical exfoliants do NOT keep you from sweating, despite what some beauty bloggers might claim. The only ingredient that blocks sweat is aluminum, and we already know to avoid aluminium in deodorants.
If you really want to pack a punch with your underarm exfoliation. Try a concentrated treatment that can help resurface and rewind any damage leaving only flawless-looking skin behind.
Don’t Stop at Underarms
Underarms are not the only sensitive and thin skin that could benefit from exfoliation. Apply the same techniques and knowledge to your elbows. Elbow skin is incredibly thin, constantly stretching and contracting, and is right over bone with hardly any padding. Harsh scrubs are likely to irritate your elbows or even cause them to bleed. Chemical exfoliants will gradually and delicately smooth any rough edges on your pointy bows. Same goes for your ankles. The thin skin down there can easily become calloused and is similarly constantly moving with less collagen and elastin than other parts of your body. Not to mention it comes in contact with more dirt than almost every other part of you. Applying a chemical exfoliant to clean, dry skin after a shower will not only help soften the skin, but clean off that stubborn dirt.
I know the armpits are a silly and small part of the skin. And maybe you’re thinking: “Who’s going to see mine anyway?” But beauty is more than just what you see, it’s how you feel — and I want you to feel great about every last inch of your skin.
And remember to share this blog with a close friend — one you wouldn’t mind showing your underarms too — I’m willing to bet they’re skipping underarm skin care and their pits could use some self-care and attention too.