The Top 10 Reasons
It can drive you crazy if your armpits itch. And unfortunately it is not uncommon. Read here about the most common causes for underarm irritation and rashes so you can avoid the annoyance of itchy armpits.
Products that are called antiperspirants contain aluminum that creates a blockade so that sweat moisture cannot reach then skin surface. Aluminum is a metal element that forms tiny particles on the skin and in the sweat duct.These can lead the skin to be itchy.
Try this: Switch to an aluminum free product. Use a glycolic based cleanser on your underarms for a few days to help remove residue left by antiperspirant.
The underarms are a thin skin part of the body. Compare the thickness by touching the skin of your underarm and notice the difference compared to the skin on your heel. The armpit skin is much thinner and hence more at risk for offending agents like harsh chemicals, shavers, waxes, soaps, scrubbing, waxing or other hair removal products and procedures, laundry detergent, scented dryer sheets, perfume just to name a few.
Try this: Give underarms a vacation from hair removal for a week. Use an unscented gentle moisturizer lotion or cream, such as Cerave Moisturizing Cream at night time until the irritation subsides. If the skin is red, flaky, scaly or inflamed another option to soothe the skin would be Eczema Soothing Therapy Balm.
4. Friction, rubbing or chafing
Clothing may tightly adhere to the skin particularly in a skin fold like the armpit area. Especially after exercise or a long day of manual work, the underarms can become the victim of friction which will lead to itching and even a rash. Ingrown hairs can be caused by friction from various forms of hair removal or from persistent rubbing by tight fitting clothes. To help reduce friction from starting, lubricate the skin.
Try this: Aquaphor Healing Ointment
It is a favorite over-the-counter healing ointment among dermatologists for a reason. It will act as a skin barrier and prevent further chafing. Use at night so it does not make your daytime clothes too greasy. But the extra lubrication is well worth the greasiness. If you have ingrown hair, hold shaving and waxing for a week and use a daily glycolic based cleanser such as Surface Deep Skin Wash or Neutrogena Acne Wash to help reverse the tendency for ingrown hair. Benzoyl peroxide body wash can also help this.
5. Sensitive Skin
If you know your skin is irritable and easily bothered by any number of things, then your underarms will be no less sensitive. People with sensitive skin may have an underlying eczema or atopic dermatitis tendency that can even be hereditary/run in the family. If this describes you, then you are probably used to looking for gentle skin care products. Do the same when you buy deodrants, detergents, cleansers, moisturizers etc to avoid itchy underarms from starting. I recommend this brand of skin products if my patient has ultra sensitive skin.
Try this: Vanicream
6. Heat rash
Tiny bumps can occur in the underarm which is a moist part of the body. Due to lack of ventilation which does not allow for airflow in this skin fold, heat rash can happen particularly when wearing clothing that is not breathable on a hot day. Heat rash which is actually blocked sweat ducts leading to bumpy or itchy skin that could be very bothersome. If you think you have heat rash aka miliaria (medical name) that does not resolve when the skin is allowed to significantly cool down over a day or two, see your dermatologist.
Try this: Keep underarms cool and dry. After a shower use a hairdryer on the cool setting and blow dry the armpits for 30 seconds for each. Wear sleeveless clothing for a few days. Avoid tight fitting clothes that might hold heat into the underarms.
7. Fungal Infection or Yeast Infection caused by Candida
As mentioned above, the moist low airflow aspect of armpits lend that area to be a risk for fungus/yeast (think of a damp basement where mold can flourish). Yeast infections can be a cause of itchy underarms. If you have diabetes, elevated blood glucose levels or are obese, this may be a predisposing factor in developing yeast infections. The rash that appears in the skin folds and is cause by yeast or candida, is known medically as intertrigo and can also affect the moist parts of the skin such as under breasts, thigh crease, buttock crease etc.
Try this: If you think you might have a yeast infection, apply an over the counter antifungal cream to the area twice daily for 3 days. Antifungal creams or powders can treat both fungus and yeast. Keep the skin cool and aerated by not wearing tight fitting clothing. . Reduce sugar intake in your diet. Eat more probiotic foods such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut or kombucha. This type of rash can persist and become very bothersome. Don’t let it linger. If not improved quickly, see your doctor.
8. Bacterial Infection
The armpits, known by the medical term, axilla, harbor bacteria. There are resident bacteria that live naturally on the skin and maintain its natural barrier function and are an essential part of the body’s microbiome. So having bacteria on skin like having bacteria in your gut is a good thing. However, bacteria live in a balance and some other strains of bacteria make their way to the skin surface when an imbalance of that happy microbiome occurs (can be from pH changes, irritation, breaks in the sskin) that can cause infection and inflammation. Think of a garden with plants that are desired to be there while there are invasive species that crowd out other vegetation. This can lead to rashes, pimples, boils. A symptom of underarm bacterial infection may start out as itching but would lead to redness, swelling, white heads, cysts,furuncles aka boils.
Try this: Wash the affected skin with a 5-10% benzoyl peroxide body wash for one or two days. If the condition does not improve or if pain or oozing develops be SURE to seek out a doctor’s input immediately.
9. Armpit rash caused by other skin conditions
Psoriasis, Eczema , also known as Atopic Dermatitis are two distinct skin conditions that affect various parts of the skin but can also involve the underarms and cause itchy skin. If your underarm itching is just one of many areas where you are experiencing a skin rash or irritation you may have to look more broadly for a cause. Psoriasis and eczema can be lifelong skin diseases so the sooner you have a diagnosis, the better. There are many new and evolving treatments, now more than ever before, for these two conditions.
Try this: Seek a doctor, particularly a dermatologist, to pinpoint the diagnosis and start a treatment that is suited for you.
10. Contact Dermatitis aka Allergic Reaction
If you’re noticing that your underarms are red, bumpy, or showing blisters and severe itching localized to a specific area, you may have a rash caused by an allergen. Contact dermatitis occurs when the skin reacts with inflammation to a substance that creates an allergic response. The substance can be many things for example, a plant, like poison ivy, wool from clothing and many, many others. What is one of the most common skin allergens? Perfume. What is in 90% of underarm products? Perfume. If you think you have an allergy localized to your underarms, it is very likely the result of something like deodorant or antiperspirant you are applying there. Allergic rashes can flare and become very inflamed and itchy if not addressed. See your dermatologist or allergist.
Try this: The first thing to do is apply cool compresses (cool-cold water soaked soft gauze or washcloth) directly on the irritated skin for immediate relief. An over the counter hydrocortisone cream * can be used for 2-3 days. Avoid perfume, soap, deodorant and irritating clothing on the affected skin. See your doctor who may perform patch testing to discern what you are reacting too. They will also prescribe a medication as needed if the over the counter cortisone cream is not helping. (* any cortisone use should be no more than one week unless otherwise recommended by your medical practitioner)
IMPORTANT – Other causes of armpit itching and when you should see your dermatologist
Always seek a medical opinion and do not rely solely on information you read in blogs or social media or hear from friends. If you have a persistent itchy condition, get help. If you need help finding a dermatologist check out:
- Hidradenitis Suppurativa
- Darier’s Disease
- Hailey Hailey Disease
- Inverse Psoriasis
- Lymph Nodes