Like other parts of the body, the skin of the underarms can darken or become discolored. Underarm skin that’s darker than the rest of the skin can keep some people from dressing in sleeveless shirts, wearing bathing suits in public, or participating in sports.

Read on to learn about possible causes of dark underarms as well as various treatment methods.

There are many reasons why your underarms may darken, including:

If you want lighter underarms, here are the first steps you can take to address some basic causes of dark underarms:

  • Change your deodorant or antiperspirant. Seek out a different brand. Consider switching to a natural alternative, like baking soda or apple cider vinegar. Some people may prefer to stop using deodorant or antiperspirant altogether.
  • Stop shaving. Try waxing or laser hair removal instead.
  • Exfoliate. Use a gentle body scrub or exfoliant on the area two to three times per week. Since the underarm skin is thin and delicate, opt for an exfoliant that’s intended for sensitive skin. You can even use a face exfoliant.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes.
  • Try to quit smoking, if you do.

Many people choose a natural approach to underarm lightening. Advocates of natural remedies suggest using a number of items with natural bleaching properties, including:

  • Potato. Grate a potato, squeeze the juice from the grated potato, and apply the juice to your underarms. After 10 minutes, rinse your underarms with cool water.
  • Milk, rose water, and orange peel. Mix 1 tablespoon of milk and 1 tablespoon of rose water with enough powdered orange peel to make a thick paste. Gently scrub your underarms with the paste and then leave it on for about 15 minutes before rinsing it off with cool water. Repeat two to three times per week.
  • Lemon. Cut thick slices of lemon and rub the slices on your underarms. After 10 minutes, rinse your underarms with cool water, dry them, and apply a moisturizer.
  • Turmeric and lemon. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice with enough turmeric to make a paste. Apply the paste evenly to your underarms. After 30 minutes, wash the paste off.
  • Egg yolk oil. Just before bedtime, massage egg yolk oil onto your underarms. The next morning, wash your underarms with pH-balanced body wash or soap.
  • Coconut oil. Massage a few drops of coconut oil onto your underarms. After 15 minutes, wash your underarms with lukewarm water and a mild soap. Repeat these steps two to three times per week.
  • Tea tree oil. Mix 5 drops of tea tree oil with 8 ounces of water in a small spray bottle. Spray the mixture on your underarms every day after drying off following your shower or bath. Let it dry naturally.

If your dark underarms are caused by a skin condition, or if you simply prefer a more intense treatment, a doctor or dermatologist might prescribe medical treatments, like:

If you’ve been diagnosed with erythrasma, your doctor will likely prescribe one of the following:

  • a topical antibiotic, like erythromycin or clindamycin (Cleocin T, Clinda-Derm)
  • an oral antibiotic, like penicillin
  • both a topical and an oral antibiotic

Treatments to lighten the skin may cause mild side effects that go away with time. Strong reactions are rare, unless you end up using a product you did not know you were allergic to.

Natural remedies

Any time you apply a product to your skin, even a natural one like food, there’s the potential for skin irritation.

To avoid possible irritation, first apply the product to a small patch of your underarm skin. If you do not have a negative skin reaction within 48 hours, continue to apply the product to the entire underarm.

Medical treatments

Powerful acids, like the kinds found in skin care products, can irritate the skin. They can also lead to other reactions, including redness and sun sensitivity. Some acids may even make your dark underarms worse.

If your doctor prescribes a cream or lotion, follow the instructions carefully. Do not leave the products on your skin for longer than is recommended.

Dermatological procedures, along with other forms of skin injury or irritation, may cause a reaction known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). Side effects of PIH include:

  • redness
  • pain
  • dry skin
  • further skin discoloration

If you’re concerned about the skin of your underarms being darker than the rest of your skin, discuss it with a healthcare professional. The discoloration may be the result of a medical condition.

If your darkened underarms are not the result of an underlying condition that needs medical treatment, talk with the doctor about some alternatives for lightening underarms.

Hyperpigmentation can often be difficult to treat, especially in people with darker skin. It may take months before you see results. Be patient as you and your doctor work to find the right remedy for you.