Dry skin often crops up in areas most commonly exposed to the elements. That’s why you’ll notice dry skin on your heels after a long day at the beach or dry hands after a snowball fight. However, those areas aren’t the only places you can experience dryness. For those with dry or sensitive skin types, any patch of skin can become dry—including your armpits. In fact, dry skin under the armpits is a common concern, especially in the cooler, drier months when there’s less moisture in the air. Besides being uncomfortable, dry armpits can be challenging to manage and even more so if you regularly shave your underarms.
With that said, there are minor tweaks you can make to your regular body care routine to help improve the feel of dry armpit skin. We spoke to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Papri Sarkar, and she shared her expert tips and knowledge on the topic. Ahead, we’ll fill you in on what makes underarm skin unique and how your daily habits may be contributing to dry armpits. You’ll also learn five tips you can implement to turn things around. Read on for the Kiehl’s guide to managing dry underarm skin.
Underarm Skin: The Basics
Your underarm skin is very different from, say, the skin on your shoulders. “The thing that’s interesting about this area is that the skin is thinner than it is in other parts of your body,” shares Dr. Sarkar. Continuing, she says, “You can feel that it’s slightly more silky, and that’s because it’s generally thinner, and that makes it more sensitive.” The skin’s natural moisture barrier in the underarm area is also unique. It too is thinner, as well as slower to regenerate, and it contains fewer lipids than the skin in other areas. This makes the underarms prone to dryness, particularly in those with already dry skin.
The armpits are also covered in coarse hair, similar to men’s chest hair. Alongside the hair is a high concentration of sweat glands, including apoeccrine glands, which only exist in the armpits. Thanks to these sweat glands, your armpit area tends to get damper than the skin on the rest of your body.
What Causes Dry Armpits?
As you may know, dry skin often results from damage to your skin’s moisture barrier. When healthy, the barrier—which is composed of essential lipids, proteins, and water—helps to protect your skin from the outside world. If it isn’t working correctly, however, external stressors (like extreme weather and humidity) can cause damage and result in excessive water loss, dryness, and irritation.
This damage to the skin barrier can be further aggravated by sweat, which contains high levels of sodium (or salt). Certain deodorant products may also worsen dryness, particularly in people with sensitive skin.
Due to its location, the underarm area is often well-shielded from the environment, which in theory should help keep your armpit’s skin barrier working properly. However, common self-care practices, like shaving the armpits, can strip the natural moisture barrier in this area and lead to dry skin. Without proper care, continued exposure to stressors can worsen underarm skin dryness and result in irritation, itching, and discomfort.
Age may also be a factor in dryness. Dr. Sarkar explains, “Most people remember being a ‘sweaty teen,’ and that’s because when you hit puberty, all of a sudden, you get much sweatier.” As you get older, however, moisture levels decrease and that can “cause dry skin everywhere, including on the armpit.”
How To Care For Dry Armpits: 5 Simple Tips
Now that we’ve shared some common reasons why you may have dry skin under your armpits, you can start addressing the problem. Below, find five tips to help care for your armpit skin.
Lather Up With a Gentle Body Wash
It’s natural to want to vigorously scrub your armpits while showering to ward off body odor—but doing so might be the reason why your underarm skin is dry. Studies indicate that harsh cleansers can damage the armpit’s delicate moisture barrier, which, as we mentioned earlier, can leave the skin vulnerable to irritation and dryness.I
Of course, you don’t want to skip washing your underarms (if you did, you’d most certainly have BO). Dr. Sarkar recommends using a “gentle wash.” Reach for a mild body formula, like Bath & Shower Liquid Body Cleanser. This gentle foaming cleanser with aloe vera washes away dirt and sweat to leave skin feeling comfortable and hydrated. It’s suitable for all skin types and is available in three refreshing fragrances: coriander, grapefruit, and lavender.
For an extra indulgent shower ritual, try Creme de Corps Smoothing Oil-to-Foam Body Cleanser. The lightly foaming body wash, infused with grapeseed oil and castor seed oil, leaves skin feeling nourished. The silky oil cleanser is suitable for all skin types and can be used daily for soft, supple skin.
Shave Carefully and Replace Your Razor
Dr. Sarkar states that you should be careful if you choose to shave your underarms. “Obviously, it’s removing your hair. But what it is also doing is causing some exfoliation,” she explains. And as you may know, overexfoliating can lead to redness and irritation. This makes it important not to go over the same areas repeatedly with your razor. To avoid exactly that, Dr. Sarkar says to use a fresh razor as often as you can. You should also check that your razor blades aren’t damaged and won’t snag your skin.
When shaving your underarms, do so after cleansing. To minimize the risk of razor burn, be sure to prep the area with shaving cream and shave in the direction of hair growth. Dr. Sarkar also shares, “I recommend holding the skin really taught.” This, again, helps prevent you from needing to shave the same spot multiple times.
After finishing a hair removal session, don’t leave your razor in the shower. It may seem convenient, but the damp, wet environment isn’t good for it or your skin. Store it in a dry area instead.
Try a Mild Deodorant
For deodorant, an armpit essential, we recommend reaching for gentle formulas, especially if your dry underarm skin is irritated or prone to sensitivity. For those with dry skin, Dr. Sarkar encourages avoiding products containing baking soda or tea tree oil, both of which can be drying.
Try Superbly Efficient Antiperspirant & Deodorant Cream, an unscented cream deodorant suitable for both men and women. The ultra-gentle formula absorbs moisture and reduces perspiration while leaving underarm skin feeling soft and smooth. Apply a small amount to clean, dry skin after showering for up to 24 hours of protection against sweat and body odor.
Body Fuel Antiperspirant & Deodorant is also a great option, particularly if you prefer a scented deodorant. The mild men’s formula with zinc and caffeine has a subtle, energizing fragrance and provides up to 48 hours of protection against sweat and odor. It’s suitable for all skin types and dries quickly for a non-sticky finish.
For patients that are really sensitive, Dr. Sarkar has them use plain aluminum chloride, often an active ingredient in antiperspirants. “They use it at night. They wash it off in the morning, and then, they’re good to go,” she says.
Smooth On a Lightweight Body Lotion
Using a moisturizer in your daily routine can help replenish the skin and reduce signs of dryness. Dr. Sarkar shares, “I tell people to use a light moisturizer.” She goes on, “A lotion is a good option because, in general, [they] tend to be lighter than creams or ointment.” This is important because while your skin may be dry, “you don’t want to overdo moisturizing in this area.” After showering, apply a lightweight yet nourishing moisturizer to your dry skin, armpits included. Try Creme de Corps, a Kiehl’s classic formulated with cocoa butter and olive-derived squalane.
If the skin feels irritated in addition to being dry, Dr. Sarkar suggests using a formula with oatmeal, which can help skin feel soothed. She recommends this over products with acids that promise to “strip the dryness from you,” which may be too harsh for the delicate underarm skin. You can find oatmeal in Deluxe Hand & Body Lotion, a lightweight formula, which also contains aloe vera and olive fruit oil. It absorbs easily, leaving the skin feeling soft, smooth, and nourished and is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.
Know When To See a Dermatologist
Dry skin isn’t necessarily a concern that needs to send you running straight to a doctor. However, Dr. Sarkar says you should visit a dermatologist if the skin is tender or itchy, you have dark velvety skin, or you notice a rash. Lastly, she notes, “I always tell people, if it really bothers you, you should go see someone.”
I. Evans, R.L, et al. “Axillary skin: biology and care.” International Journal of Cosmetic Science vol. 34 (2012): 389-395. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2494.2012.00729.x