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Having underarms that are darker than the rest of your skin can result due to acanthosis nigricans. Treatment may not be needed but can include medications and procedures.
Your underarms should naturally be about the same shade as the rest of your skin. But sometimes, the skin in the armpits can turn a darker hue. Dark underarms usually aren’t a sign of anything serious, but some people may find them embarrassing — especially during tank top and swimsuit season.
Darkening is often due to a skin condition called acanthosis nigricans (AN). It causes skin to thicken and darken in folds around the body.
Common areas of darkening include the:
- back of the neck
Your skin might also itch or have a foul odor in those areas.
Anywhere from 7 to 74 percent of people experience some form of AN, according to a
Keep reading to learn more about why this happens and what you can do.
Your skin color is determined by pigment cells called melanocytes. When these cells multiply more, they can turn the skin a darker color.
Anyone can develop AN, but some people have a greater risk. People who have darker skin are
AN sometimes runs in families. You inherit it via a faulty gene. You’re
Although AN is usually genetic or tied to an underlying condition, there’s some
To avoid irritating your underarms, lubricate the skin with a gentle soap or shaving cream before shaving. Apply an unscented moisturizing cream afterward.
You may also be more likely to develop AN because of:
Carrying extra weight makes your body more resistant to the effects of insulin. This hormone helps regulate your blood sugar. High levels of insulin in your blood can lead to increased production of skin pigment cells.
Type 2 diabetes
Obesity is also a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, a disease of high blood sugar. People who develop type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of AN.
Some conditions that disrupt insulin levels can lead to AN.
- polycystic ovary syndrome
- Cushing syndrome
- hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid gland
Certain medications increase your insulin levels, which can lead to underarm darkening.
- corticosteroids, such as prednisone (Rayos)
- human growth hormone
- birth control pills
- high-dose niacin (Niacor)
When AN is caused by cancer, it’s called malignant acanthosis nigricans. You’ll likely see dark patches around your mouth.
Often, treating the medical condition that caused your dark underarms will fix the issue. A combination of medicines and home remedies could help lighten the color.
Lifestyle changes and home remedies
Obesity is one of the leading causes of dark underarms. Losing weight can often fix the problem. Weight loss is an effective way to treat diabetes, too. Talk to your doctor about diet and fitness strategies to help you get down to a healthy weight for your height.
If you suspect that a medication you’re taking is causing your dark underarms, talk to your doctor about switching to another one.
A few natural remedies have been promoted for lightening pigmented skin, including:
These products haven’t been proven to lighten dark underarms, and some of them might cause side effects. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist before using any natural remedy.
Medication and procedures
Your dermatologist can prescribe medications to help lighten the skin under your arms.
Popular options include:
- Retinoid creams or pills. Tretinoin (Retin-A) is considered the first-line treatment for AN. When used regularly, it can help thin and lighten the skin in affected areas.
- Chemical peels. Peels containing trichloroacetic acid (TCA) can help exfoliate the skin. This process helps remove the thicker, damaged skin to reveal new, smooth skin.
- Calcipotriene (Dovonex). This vitamin D-based cream reduces skin pigment cells.
Dermabrasion, which resurfaces the skin, and laser therapies are also used to treat dark skin under the arms.
If you have cancer, your doctor will perform surgery to remove the tumor. Once the tumor is removed, the darkened skin will often clear up.
Although dark underarms are usually harmless, they’re worth getting checked out by a dermatologist — especially if you think you might have a condition like diabetes or an underactive thyroid gland. Treating the condition that caused it will usually make the dark skin fade.
If you suddenly see dark patches under your arms and on other areas of your skin, see your dermatologist or primary care doctor right away. This could be a sign of more serious condition, like cancer.
You can book an appointment with a dermatologist in your area using our Healthline FindCare tool.