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Itchy Armpits: What Causes Them and How to Naturally Relieve Underarm Itch

By Fitoru | 14 October 2019
Woman touching her underarm

Having inexplicably itchy armpits can be maddeningly uncomfortable, and could prompt enough scratching to actually damage your skin. We’ve compiled a list of potential causes to help isolate the issue, plus some natural suggestions for home remedies to cure underarm itch.

What Causes Itchy Armpits?

A visible rash in your armpits might alert you to some sort of allergic reaction or a skin infection involving your hair follicles, and in those cases you may want to seek medical advice ASAP from a dermatologist to rule out any underlying medical condition. The same goes if you suspect something wrong with the lymph nodes located in your underarm area. Rash-free itchy underarms, however, could be caused by something relatively harmless that’s nevertheless acting as an irritant to the sensitive skin in your armpits. 

Here are some potential common causes of itchy armpits.

  • Improper hygiene: The salt from your sweat may cause itch in your underarms or elsewhere on your body (like your scalp). Bacteria can grow there as well, causing itch and possible bacterial infection if not properly cleaned. Washing thoroughly after excessive sweating is important, especially if you have underarm hair that can trap sweat.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis: There may be something in your laundry detergent, antiperspirant, deodorant, or clothing that causes your underarms to itch, either because you’re allergic to it, or perhaps because it interacts poorly with your sweat. Fragrance-free products for your laundry and bathroom could help, or a natural brand that doesn’t use unnecessary chemicals.
  • Improper shaving: A rash can arise from your own stubble causing irritation, “razor rash” due to a dull razor, shaving without a lubricating shaving cream, or shaving too often. Avoid dry shaving and obtain a sharp razor and soothing shaving cream to see if that doesn’t solve your itching issues.
  • Miliaria rubra: This is a condition caused by heat rash and seen frequently in those confined to bed rest or in a particularly hot and humid environment. Blocked sweat glands can also cause this issue.
  • Intertrigo: Intertrigo can occur anywhere the skin folds onto itself, including at the thighs, between the buttocks, or underneath heavy breasts. The skin may become cracked, red, and itchy, and could worsen if it leads to a fungal infection. This is more likely to happen to those are obese or diabetic.
  • Psoriasis: This is an autoimmune disorder of the skin that can flare up in the underarms and cause itchy, flaky, or red skin.
  • Hidradenitis suppurativa: This sweat gland condition involves abscesses and cysts which may burst, itch, and cause pain in the underarms.
  • Fox-Fordyce disease: This skin condition is characterized by clogs of the sweat glands caused by small, itch bumps, and can be treated in much the same way as the above hidradenitis suppurativa.
  • Axillary dermatitis: This is a rash or reaction caused when allergens come into contact with the skin. 
  • Axillary folliculitis: An ingrown hair follicle in the underarm can cause an infection of the follicle, a condition that could be cured at home or may require the attention of a health care professional depending on its severity. 
  • Axillary hyperhidrosis: Though its cause is not perfectly understood (it may have to do with our fight-or-flight response), this disorder of the sweat glands involves an overproduction of sweat.
  • Axillary lymphadenopathy: This condition involves enlarged lymph nodes in the armpits, possibly a response from a benign disease.
  • Keratosis pilaris: This is a condition characterized by excessive keratin production and causes zit-like bumps in the armpits and other areas of the body. It usually requires no medical intervention and can be cured with home remedies (see our list for natural treatments in the next section of this article).
  • Tinea axillaris: Now we’ve reached causes that require professional medical attention. Tinea axillaris is ringworm of the armpit, a fungal infection more commonly seen in those with axillary hyperhidrosis.
  • Candida yeast infection: This is a yeast infection of the armpit that may need an antifungal cream. Your doctor will advise the best course of treatment.
  • Cancer: Certain cancers like breast cancer can have the symptom of itchy armpit, though this is an incredibly rare side effect.

Home Remedies for Itchy Armpits

Whether your itchy armpits are due to a particularly delicate underarm or some sort of mild infection or disorder, you’re in need of some skin relief. Here are our suggestions for natural and/or home remedies you can try.

Causes and Home Remedies for Itchy Armpit

1. Change Deodorants or Detergent, and Get a New Razor

If you’ve recently changed antiperspirants or laundry detergent, you may already suspect it’s the culprit behind your itchy underarms. You can confirm that by switching again: if your itchiness disappears, the mystery is solved. All-natural and allergen-free brands are available, such as Schmidt’s Naturals line of scented deodorants for sensitive skin or Almay’s Hypoallergenic Clear Gel Fragrance-Free Deodorant, available through their Amazon store.

A new shave razor and soothing shave cream can also help keep your underarms undisturbed by itch.

2. DIY Relief and Prevention

If heat rash or razor burn is causing you pain, use an ice pack for immediate ease of itching or burning symptoms. Aloe direct from an aloe plant and unscented moisturizers can help soothe skin too, as can a warm bath with colloidal oatmeal for full-body itch relief (perfect for cases like psoriasis).

For prevention, eating more vitamin C foods (citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes) can help prevent infections because vitamin C is a fantastic antioxidant boost to your immune system. Also, a slice of lemon applied topically can help kill bacteria on the skin or in the follicles of your armpit (plus it quickly cuts down on smell, just like any other deodorant). Baking soda can cut down on bacteria too, and can help dry out excessive sweating. 

Certain essential oils like lavender, tea tree, or coconut oil can treat rashes as well, plus ease itchiness and irritation, and prevent fungal infections while bringing a pleasant smell to your underarms. Just apply with a cotton swab and you’re good to go.

3. Over-the-Counter Treatment Options

Calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, or treatments containing ketoconazole, nystatin, or clotrimazole are over-the-counter cures that can help with itch, rash, or fungal infections if they’re not concerning enough to need professional medical care. You can always ask your local pharmacist for advice or recommendation for over-the-counter treatments. Anti-chafing powders can be purchased as well, and antihistamines (Benadryl, Claritin, or Allegra) can be taken to calm itching symptoms throughout the day and night if it’s an allergic flare-up.

Itch Tips and Cautions

Try not to scratch your itch too much. Scratching the skin in your armpit could lead to small cuts or abrasions that might then become infected, so if it’s at all possible do anything else you can think of before scratching. Try some relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to help relieve stress—excessive amounts of stress can lead to itchiness and inflammation throughout the body, and can exacerbate an itchy underarm.

Keep an eye out for other symptoms of illness or allergic reaction, including runny nose, sneezing, joint stiffness, sore throat, swelling of your lips or tongue, sweating, fever, chills, cough, constricted throat, or labored breathing. Any such accompanying symptoms could mean this itchiness in your armpit isn’t an isolated incident or irritant; it could be an allergic reaction or even an accidental poisoning that needs medical attention. Please do not hesitate to seek professional medical advice if you experience any alarming symptoms.

Itchiness Is the Pits

An itchy armpit could be an annoyance or the sign of a serious condition. If it’s a mild circumstance, we encourage you to stay cool and dry when it’s warm and hot outside, and stay clean and well-scrubbed all year round to prevent avoidable underarm itch. If itchiness does come to find you, we hope these natural remedies are the solutions that get you back to comfort.

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