We can be our own worst enemies, including (maybe especially) when it comes to how we look -- and it's not only our weight or our nose that can bring us down. As many as 93 percent of American women consider their underarms unattractive, and that anxiety leads many to cover up [source: Unilever].
What's the problem? Not odor or wetness. Pimples, discoloration, dark splotches, soreness, itchiness -- these are the complaints keeping women from slipping into their sleeveless. But we have five ways to feel more confident about throwing your hands in the air in happiness rather than in despair. First, something simple: Did you know your deodorant may be sabotaging you?
Examine Your Antiperspirant
If your underarms have become a bit red, bumpy and irritated, look at your antiperspirant before anything else. Antiperspirants do just as the name implies: They block your sweat. Most antiperspirants contain aluminum salt to block your pores and keep you dry, but that ingredient may also irritate your skin. The more aluminum salt your antiperspirant contains, the higher the chance it will cause irritation (and possibly damage your shirt, too).
Antiperspirants that contain alcohol may also be too drying for some people's skin, which can lead to irritation, as can any ingredient that ends in "-paraben" (such as methylparaben).
One simple way to minimize skin irritation (whether it's from an antiperspirant, razor burn, or simply a predisposition to having sensitive skin) is to keep your skin hydrated. Moisturizing skin on a daily basis protects it from the harshness of your daily life, decreasing its scaliness and increasing its softness. When it comes to caring for underarms it's best to apply lotions after shaving and before applying antiperspirant.
Moisturizers come in a few different types which work in different ways. Emollients, such as petroleum jelly, trap water in your skin, whereas humectants, such as your daily hand cream, attract and draw water to your skin from the air. Dimethicone-based moisturizers soothe dry skin through silicon-based polymer technology, and are successful in treating -- or decreasing -- underarm skin irritation, too.
Your skin renews itself about every four weeks; skin takes a little longer to turn over as we age. But you can speed the cell-sloughing process along by practicing regular exfoliation. Exfoliation removes the old, dead skin cells from the outermost layer of your skin, giving it a softer texture and more youthful appearance. Skin-care products that contain exfoliating ingredients gently scrub off the build-up of dead cells -- that's true for your face, underarms, or any part of your body.
There can be too much of a good thing when it comes to exfoliation, though, leading to cause skin irritation, dryness and inflammation. Always use a mild exfoliant or soft cloth, and exfoliate gently before shaving. Do this no more than twice a week (less if you have sensitive, pigmented or acne-prone skin or if you use other hair-removal methods).
Use a Skin-lightening Treatment for Dark Areas
Did you know that wearing antiperspirant, tight clothing or plucking hairs might be causing your underarm skin to darken? That irritation may be the cause of these dark or splotchy spots, an increase of melanin production in the skin known as hyperpigmentation, although hormone fluctuations and sun damage are also sometimes to blame. The condition appears to affect dark-skinned women most frequently (although no skin color is exempt).
Skin-lightening treatments, such as topical bleaching agents, can be used to treat mild hyperpigmentation problems. Chemical peels can also lighten skin, though recovery time associated with the procedure can range from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. Other risks involved included allergic reaction, scarring and infection [source: WebMD].
Consider Alternatives to Shaving
During the 1920s shaving underarms gained popularity among American women, and hasn't fallen out of fashion since, but there's more to underarm hair removal than just the razor. What's the problem with the tried and true method? Shaving can lead to razor burn, nicks, and irritation -- and the results only last about one to three days. This leads some to seek alternatives, such as waxing and laser hair removal.
Waxing can be painful and may cause some redness and swelling immediately after the treatment, but it does offer long-lasting results -- hair-free armpits for about a month. Laser hair removal, on the other hand, permanently removes hair by destroying the hair follicle. Though it can take as many as eight sessions for full results, about 90 percent of underarms will be hair-free in as few as three to five treatments [source: WebMD].
Humans have tried for centuries to mask the scent emanating from their bodies, so what do deodorants do differently?
Author's Note: 5 Ways to Get Nice Underarm Skin
I knew the market for keeping odor and wetness at bay was big, but the U.S. market for antiperspirants is almost $3 billion. That's a lot of sticks, gels and sprays to keep the sweat away. What I didn't expect was to learn that the majority of women in the U.S. have a problem with their underarms, not the old hair or no-hair debate and not just the occasional razor burn or a nick from an old blade, but a serious discomfort with the condition their underarm skin is in.
More Great Links
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Dry skin: Diagnosis, treatment, and outcome." (April 17, 2014) http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/a---d/dry-skin/diagnosis-treatment
- Aragon, Britta. "Dimethicone: The Truth Behind This Common Cosmetics Ingredient." Cinco Vidas. April 14, 2012. (April 17, 2014) http://cincovidas.com/dimethicone-the-truth-behind-this-common-cosmetics-ingredient/
- Barba, Alicia. "Nonlaser Hair Removal Techniques." Medscape. Nov. 11, 2013. (April 17, 2014) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1067139-overview
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- Bright, Stacie. "Perceptions of Unattractive Underarms Have Women Shunning Sleeveless Attire." Unilever. April 4, 2011. (April 17, 2014) http://multivu.prnewswire.com/mnr/dovegosleeveless/49554/
- Byron, Ellen. "Unilever Tackles the Ugly Underarm." The Wall Street Journal. March 30, 2011. (April 17, 2014) http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748703696704576223112705412404
- Castanedo-Cazares, Juan Pablo; Larrago-Pinones, Gabryela; Ehnis-Perez, Adriana; Fuentes-Ahumada, Cornelia; Oros-Ovalle, Cuauhtemoc; Smoller, Bruce R.; and Bertha Torres-Alvarez. "Topical niacinamide 4% and desonide 0.05% for treatment of axillary hyperpigmentation: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study." Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. Jan. 14, 2013. Vol. 6. Pages 29-36. (April 17, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3552481/
- Columbia University Medical Center: Herbert Irving Center for Dermatology and Skin Cancer - Department of Dermatology. "Laser Hair Removal." (April 17, 2014) http://dermatology.columbia.edu/conditions/hair_removal.html
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- Gekas, Alexandra. "Waxing 101: Tips and Tricks for Beginners." Woman's Day. (April 17, 2014) http://www.womansday.com/style-beauty/beauty-tips-products/waxing-101-tips-tricks-for-beginners-108331
- Health.com. "Exfoliating 101: How to Let Fresh, Radiant Skin Shine Through." Feb. 22, 2008. (April 17, 2014) http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20410841,00.html
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- James, A.G.; Pople, J.E.; Parish, W.E.; Moore, A.E.; and N. Dunbar. "Histological evaluation of hyperpigmentation on female Filipino axillary skin." International Journal of Cosmetic Science. August 2006. Vol. 28, no. 4. Pages 247-253. (April 17, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18489264
- Levine, Norman. "Laser Hair Removal." WebMD. June 26, 2012. (April 17, 2014) http://www.webmd.com/beauty/hair-removal/laser-hair-removal
- Martin, Laura J. "Get Glowing: Exfoliation Products for Your Face and Body." WebMD. Nov. 8, 2012.(April 17, 2014) http://www.webmd.com/beauty/skin/you-asked-exfoliation-products
- Mental Floss. "When Did Women Start Shaving Their Pits?" Aug. 13, 2009. (April 17, 2014) http://mentalfloss.com/article/22511/when-did-women-start-shaving-their-pits
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- Stulberg, Daniel L.; Clark, Nicole; and Daniel Tovey. "Common Hyperpigmentation Disorders in Adults: Part I. Diagnostic Approach, Cafeau Lait Macules, Diffuse Hyperpigmentation, Sun Exposure, and Phototoxic Reactions." American Family Physician. Vol. 68, no. 10. Pages 1955-1961. Nov. 15, 2003. (April 17, 2014) http://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/1115/p1955.html
- U.S. National Library of Medicine - MedlinePlus. "Skin Pigmentation Disorders." March 26, 2014. (April 17, 2014) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/skinpigmentationdisorders.html