Body odour, skin problems and why you should take underarm care more seriously
Our armpit areas tend to be more sensitive and, no thanks to constant friction and humidity, can be the site of conditions such as eczema, too. To avoid the, ahem, pitfalls, CNA Lifestyle talked to dermatologists about some dos and don’ts.
Odours, skin problems, discolouration, ingrown hairs. When it comes to caring for your underarm area, the pitfalls are many. (No pun intended.)
And there's a reason for this. Dr Teo Wan Lin, a dermatologist at TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre, told CNA Lifestyle that the armpit area is part of the intertriginous skin zone, where there is skin-to-skin contact and where the skin folds are.
Thus, it tends to be a bit more sensitive, and common skin problems in these intertriginous areas have to do with increased friction and humidity, which can lead to a higher risk of conditions such as eczema, as well as fungal infections like candidiasis.
And as it turned out, there is such a thing as underarm care, and we got some experts to explain some essential things to keep in mind.
TREAT ARMPITS WITH GENTLE CARE
According to Dr Teo, an effective gentle cleanser is best for cleaning the underarm area. If you’re using a harsh body wash, your underarms may be the first to develop sensitivity symptoms, which can be redness, flaking, and itching. She doesn't recommend scrubbing the underarm area as that will break down the skin barrier and increase the chances of developing skin conditions.
Elisabeth Raman, the head of the training department at the Spa Esprit Group, added that the armpits have a high concentration of hair follicles and sweat glands and are particularly sensitive because of constant chafing. Long periods of time without light and air can trap unwanted moisture and bacteria and clog the pores.
She recommended using a gentle cleanser that doesn’t strip away skin’s natural oils. A Tapir’s Tale’s Gentle Wash (S$28 from https://www.tapirstale.com/) is safe for use on sensitive skin as it taps plant-based ingredients that help retain moisture and prompt skin’s natural functions.
MOISTURISE YOUR PITS
It may seem counter-intuitive to put moisturiser under your arms, which can cause the area to feel sticky and moist. But Dr Teo said maintaining the skin microbiome, which is the balance of good and bad bacteria, is important, and the skin on the underarms is more delicate and prone to barrier dysfunction.
So if you skip the moisturiser or use a very harsh cleanser, or if you scrub the skin too hard, you'll be at higher risk of developing fungal infections because your skin can no longer protect itself against these surface pathogens.
Especially for those who tend to sweat more, exercise a lot or work in humid outdoor environments, Dr Teo recommended showering right after sweaty activities to prevent risk of developing skin infections which thrive under occlusive warm climates.
Dr TWL Dermaceuticals’ Miel Honey Cleanser (S$101.65 from https://drtwlderma.com/) has a broad-spectrum antimicrobial effect without drying out the skin, unlike chemical disinfectant cleansers. It also traps a layer of moisture under the skin, performing a humectant function that can help to repair the skin barrier.
PICK A DEODORANT OR ANTI-PERSPIRANT WISELY
Deodorants and anti-perspirants serve different purposes, explained Raman. While anti-perspirants can reduce the amount you sweat, deodorants can only help mask the body odour associated with sweat. She recommended looking for aluminum-free deodorants with natural-derived ingredients or natural active ingredients that protect against underarm odour.
Also, avoid formulations with harsh chemicals which often result in skin sensitivity, and watch out for products that leave a stain. “No two skin types are the same – we all have different skin microbiomes which will react differently to different products,” she said.
“What works for one might not have the same effect on another. Similar to any skincare regime, the choice between deodorant and anti-perspirant depends on one’s body and lifestyle habits.”
TRY SKINCARE ON YOUR UNDERARMS
“Darkened skin or discolouration on the underarms can be caused by a variety of reasons, some of which include genetics, use of deodorants or skincare products which contain aluminium, alcohol and fragrance, lifestyle factors such as wearing tight or damp clothing for a prolonged period of time, and chafing of the underarm skin, all of which may irritate the skin," said Raman. "Shaving on dry skin or with a dull razor can also potentially cause the skin to darken and thicken over time.”
Fortunately, there are tips and products that can help. You can exfoliate regularly to remove accumulation of dead skin cells, moisturise regularly and add targeted skincare solutions to your regime, such as vitamin C for brightening benefits, she said.
Try Forgotten Skincare's The Original Underarm Brightening Cream (S$47 from sg.urbanoutfitters.com), which has natural and gentle ingredients to even out skin tone, soothe irritated skin, and deal with ingrown hairs and odour.
PICK A HAIR REMOVAL OPTION THAT WORKS FOR YOU
“Shaving is the most common method used for hair removal, the reason being that it is convenient and cheap” said Dr Teo.
“Other alternatives, such as waxing, can actually cause more problems, such as contact dermatitis thanks to the wax. It can also cause pain, which can further aggravate individuals with pre-existing underarm skin issues. IPL [Intense Pulsed Light, where a device delivers very gentle pulses of light to the hair root], commonly performed by estheticians or hair removal salons, are not regulated by the medical industry, but as long as there are safety protocols, individuals can view that as a viable method for hair removal, although there are some risks associated with IPL as well. We do use different lasers for hair removal which are effective, but that may also present some issues in hyperpigmented skin,” added Dr Teo.
Raman also recommended light-based technologies for hair removal, such as Strip’s Advanced Fluorescence Technology (AFT), which is painless and have results that last for a relatively long period.
It works by using the heat source from the light-based technology which is absorbed by the melanin in the hair, resulting in the weakening of the hair strand from the root which is a safe and comfortable long-term hair removal method. “Such methods reduce skin surface tugging and are less likely to cause surface skin irritation or sensitivity, as compared to shaving, sugaring and epilation,” she said.
With any hair removal method, proper post-treatment care is important. This enhances the efficacy of the treatment results and also reduces skin irritation post hair removal treatments. Raman suggested a three-step post treatment regime which is to exfoliate, moisturise, and using a treatment like TWO L(I)PS Outgrown (S$75 from www.twolips.vip), an ingrown hair-reducing cream formulated to stop ingrown hairs while reducing irritation and itch.