A beautiful Asian woman in a white tank tap raising her arms outdoors

Axilla would be the term that Sheldon Cooper would use to describe the armpit. According to a study by Amber Gordon and Khalid Alsayouri on the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the axilla “is an anatomical region under the shoulder joint where the arm connects to the shoulder.” Scientifically, it comprises five anatomic borders made of nerves and muscles. In layman’s terms, it is the good, old-fashioned underarm.

The axilla is a necessary region. It serves as a passage for important veins and arteries and houses other tell-tale physical features. Read on to learn why you should be paying more attention to this part of your body, especially if you notice some discoloration.

What Causes Dark Underarms?

Poor shaving technique is one of the most common causes of dark underarms.

Skin discoloration, or acanthosis nigricans, is so common that it’s usually nothing to worry about. Apart from the underarms, it can also affect your neck, groin, and other parts of your body where the skin folds. Based on 2014 research in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal, up to 74% of people suffer from dark underarms at some point. Often, external factors such as improper shaving techniques, medication, tight clothing, or a simple need to exfoliate cause it.

However, dark patches on your skin can also imply a serious medical condition. One culprit is hormonal imbalance. Having your period or being pregnant can cause your chemical makeup to go on hyperdrive and that’s okay. However, hormonal disorders can also lead to more complicated issues, such as Cushing’s syndrome, thyroid and other metabolic problems, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and diabetes. It can also be a side effect of obesity or an infection.

According to the UK’s National Health Service, acanthosis nigricans can also indicate cancer — although this is quite rare. The good news is that sometimes the discoloration can also just be a quirky genetic trait. 

When Should You Consult Your Doctor?

Unless the color of your axilla makes you feel uncomfortable, then you don’t really have to be concerned. However, if you’re feeling unsure, then it’s safer to consult a physician just in case.

Here are some red flags that your dark underarm might no longer be just a cosmetic issue.

  • Skin tags appear along with the discoloration
  • The skin texture becomes somewhat thick and leathery
  • The discoloration appears suddenly and without other symptoms
  • Lumps, which may feel tender, can be felt in your underarms
  • You already have underlying conditions

How Do You Treat Dark Underarms?

When brightening dark pits, make sure to consider your lifestyle.

There are several tried-and-true methods to brightening underarms, but the first step is to get to the root of the discoloration. Is friction from tight clothing causing a shadow in your pit area? It might be time to get used to tops that are loose around the axilla area (or at least wear them now and then). If shaving is the suspect, figure out another way to rid yourself of unwanted underarm hair. Waxing or laser treatments are always viable options.

If you’re uneasy about dusky pits, another convenient solution to your underarm woes is to use a brightening deodorant. Deodorants aren’t made equal. They are formulated for specific purposes, like managing sweat or freshening odor. Some, however, can do it all. Dove Aerosol Ultimate Repair Dark Marks Corrector Soothing Jasmine Deodorant Spray, for example, not only evens out axillary skin tone thanks to Vitamin B3, but it also has moisturizing cream to smoothen “chicken skin”. It absorbs fast, giving you a fresh and dry feeling, and its light fruity scent masks potential body stench.

Most of the time, the color of your axilla region is a superficial matter, but it’s wise to know when to leave it alone, when to have it checked, and when to brighten it. Whether it’s a symptom of an underlying condition or society’s conventions, remember that the most important metric when it comes to treating your underarms is your comfort level.