The most you probably think about your armpits is when you’re in the shower or putting on deodorant in the morning. Sweaty armpits are one thing, but when your armpits itch, you can’t stop thinking about it, especially when you’re trying to sneak a scratch in public. Armpit itch does happen, and warmth, dampness, and hair growth make the area prone to itching.
No, itchy armpits aren’t a serious condition and likely have an easy fix, but they’re still not great to deal with. And sometimes there’s more going on with your underarms than just a random itch. Knowing the real problem is the first step toward finding the proper solution. So, we’ve sorted out some possibilities for what’s causing that crazy sensation and what to do to give yourself some relief.
Getting a heat rash on your underarms isn’t always noticeable at first, but it definitely comes with an almost unbearable irritation and itchiness. Gary L. Peterson, DO, an osteopathic family practice physician, says heat rashes develop when your sweat ducts are blocked and perspiration is trapped under your skin. The blocked sweat seeps into the nearby tissue, irritating the skin, which is common in warm, humid weather.
If you have a heat rash on your armpits, don’t scratch it. Scratching can lead to infection of the already vulnerable skin or cause the rash to escalate to a bigger issue. Use over-the-counter anti-itch creams, cold compresses to soothe the area, and wear loose or lightweight clothing. If the rash worsens or lasts longer than a few days, check with a doctor to see if you need additional treatment.
Ingrown hairs happen when the hair starts to curl back into the skin as it grows. This causes red or pink bumps and inflammation around the hair, which can be both painful and itchy. Ingrown hairs typically worsen for those who shave their armpits or have thick, coarse hair.
According to research published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, shaving with a sharp razor, exfoliating the skin, and using warm water can help to prevent bumps and ingrown hairs. If they do occur, stop shaving for several days and use a steroid cream to decrease inflammation. Once you start the hair removal process again, use those preventive measures above and shave in the direction of the growing hair.
Although not many things come in contact with your underarms, they’re a sensitive area on the body.
“Certain types of deodorant can sometimes cause irritation or allergic contact dermatitis in those with sensitive skin, resulting in bumps, redness, and itching in the underarm area,” says Marguerite Germain, MD, South Carolina-based dermatologist. Shaving can also pave the way for irritation and even an infection like folliculitis, she adds.
When you wash your pits (which is obviously necessary), you disrupt the skin’s protective barrier, allowing irritants to invade your skin and cause itchiness. So after you shower, dry off and wait about 15 minutes before applying deodorant. You can also try using a deodorant without artificial fragrances and aluminum salts—see if this does the trick after a few weeks. Also try using fragrance-free body washes or laundry detergents.
Intertrigo is a rash that occurs anywhere that the skin folds and chafes against itself. It’s most likely when you have a combination of frictional rubbing, high temperatures, and moisture. It typically looks like a red and inflammatory rash surrounded by scaling and bumpy skin. It can cause itching, burning, and sometimes even a musty smell. Because the folds of the skin are warm and moist, the condition can also lead to the growth of fungi and bacteria.
“Patients with painful armpit lumps or bumps are often concerned about cancer,” says Lauren Levy, MD, a dermatologist and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “I often reassure them that most of the time these lumps are not cancers but rather infections or growths.”
Luckily, intertrigo has a simple fix: Apply ointments such as over-the-counter steroid creams onto the armpits. To prevent the rash or infection, keep the area as dry as possible and avoid tight clothing. Also, apply lubricating ointment like petrolatum onto your armpits to prevent chafing, especially before any physical activities. Check with a doctor if an infection occurs or discomfort continues.
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