Itchy armpits can be maddening — and pretty uncomfortable in public. What are the causes and how to counteract them?
Sweaty armpits can be uncomfortable. But when your armpits are itchy or burning, it’s hard to stop thinking about it — especially when you’re trying to inconspicuously scratch yourself in public. Luckily, armpit itching is usually easy to fix. We explain how here.
What makes the armpit so sensitive?
Human skin is particularly sensitive under the armpits. For one thing, the skin here is relatively thin. On the other hand, there are not only sweat glands in the armpits. Lymph nodes and blood vessels also run here. In addition, this part of the body is almost always covered by clothing. The armpits are among the wettest and warmest parts of the body and are particularly sensitive to itching – also because of the hair growth.
What causes itching under the armpits?
1. Heat rash
“Heat rash is caused by increased sweating at high temperatures,” explains Dr. medical Ulrike Poliza from Dermatologikum Hamburg. “The heat build-up causes the sweat glands to become clogged.” The blocked sweat thus seeps into the surrounding tissue and irritates the skin.
While a heat rash in the armpits is not always obvious at first glance, it is definitely accompanied by an almost unbearable irritation and itching. Even if the temptation to scratch is great, you should definitely refrain from doing so. Because on the one hand, it doesn’t really help – and only increases the itching. Second, scratching can infect already sensitive skin or make the rash a bigger problem.
Instead, use over-the-counter healing ointments and cold compresses to soothe the area. Wearing loose or light clothing can help keep the skin dry. However, if the rash worsens or lasts longer than a few days, you should see a dermatologist to determine if you need additional treatment.
2. Ingrown hairs
Ingrown hairs occur when the cut hair pulls back under the skin, curls up, and continues to grow under the skin’s surface. This causes red or pink bumps and inflammation around the hair that can be both painful and itchy. Ingrown hairs typically get worse in people who shave their armpits or have very thick and curly hair.
Shaving with a sharp razor (from €12.99), exfoliating your (from €9.95) skin, and using warm water can help prevent bumps and ingrown hairs. If they do occur, stop shaving for a few days and use an anti-inflammatory cream to reduce inflammation.
A long-term method against ingrown hairs is laser epilation (from €89.99). “In the best case scenario, this permanently reduces hair growth and thus prevents recurring inflammation,” says dermatologist Poliza.
3. Sensitivity to ingredients
The armpits are a very sensitive area of the body. You should pay even more attention to which care products you let them get to. This is because certain types of deodorant, such as antiperspirants or heavily scented deodorants, can sometimes cause irritation or allergic contact dermatitis in people with sensitive skin, resulting in bumps, redness, and itching in the armpits. You can find out how to recognize a good deodorant here. Therefore, you could use a deodorant without artificial fragrances (from €9.94) and without aluminum salts for a certain period of time use it – and check after a few weeks whether the change brings the desired success. According to recent studies, the suspicion that aluminum salts in deodorants can cause health risks such as cancer is rather unlikely.
Also, remember that when you wash your armpits, you are breaking down the skin’s protective barriers. This allows irritants to penetrate the skin and try to itch. Men with sensitive skin should therefore avoid washing gels that are too heavily perfumed and switch to pH-neutral shower gels. You should also wait 15 minutes after showering before applying deodorant.
“Intertrigo is an inflammatory skin disease that can occur wherever skin rubs against skin or skin sweat particularly heavily,” says dermatologist Poliza. It is most common with a combination of friction, high temperature, and humidity and typically presents as a red and inflamed rash surrounded by scaly and bumpy skin. Intertrigo can cause itching, burning, and sometimes even a musty odor. Since the skin folds are warm, moist, and damaged, fungal or bacterial infections, the so-called secondary infections, can also occur.
Fortunately, there are effective remedies against this inflammation: “Depending on the severity of the infection, the therapy consists of drying zinc pastes to ointments or pastes containing cortisone. The secondary infection is treated accordingly with antimycotics or antibiotics,” explains expert Poliza.
Keeping the area as dry as possible and avoiding tight clothing will help prevent the rash or infection. Applying a greasy ointment like petroleum jelly to your armpits will prevent chafing, especially before physical activity. However, if an infection occurs or the symptoms persist, a doctor should be consulted.
There are 19 more different reasons why your armpit may itch – many of them harmless, but some do require medical attention.
- Lack of hygiene
- Laundry detergent
- Improper shaving
- Miliaria rubra
- Axillary dermatitis
- Axillary folliculitishidrosis
- Axillary lymphadenopathy
- Hidradenitis suppurativa
- Tinea axillaries
- Candida yeast infection
- Deodorants and antiperspirants
- Keratosis pilaris
- Fox-Fordyce disease
In many cases, itchy armpits are accompanied by a rash, but there are also many times when your armpits itch and there is no rash in sight. Common triggers of itchy armpits without a rash include excessive sweating, fever, weight loss, fatigue, dry skin, and swollen lymph nodes
Essential oils such as lavender oil, tea tree oil, and peppermint oil are useful in treating itchy armpits as they will reduce inflammation and irritation. Simply add two to three drops of your preferred essential oil to a tablespoon of olive or coconut oil.
Symptoms of itchy armpits
The primary symptom of an itchy armpit is itchiness! But alternative symptoms can also arise, depending on the cause of your itchy armpits. Some of those other symptoms that can be experienced with itchy armpits are cough, fever, or chills, tenderness or pain, joint stiffness and pain, runny nose, sore throat, and sweating.
Good skin care, wearing breathable clothing, and using mild deodorants will prevent most armpit problems. However, should it burn under your arms, our tips will help, guaranteed.
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