Itching under the armpits occurs when something irritates the skin surface. This irritation prompts you to scratch the area to remove the unpleasant sensation. A variety of skin conditions (psoriasis, keratosis pilaris and contact dermatitis) can cause itchy armpits. In severe cases, armpit itches may be triggered by a secondary infection.
Itchy armpits can also be caused by an underlying health condition or environmental factors (allergies, pollution, toxins, etc.). Moreover, it is not uncommon to experience itchy armpits after shaving or itchy armpits during pregnancy. If your itchy armpits become too painful or you develop an itchy armpit rash, contact a medical professional. Many prescription medications and/or over-the-counter home remedies can diminish or ease underarm itchiness.
You may wonder what causes itchy armpits. There are a variety of skin conditions that can trigger underarm itching.
Psoriasis, a chronic skin condition, can cause itchy armpits. This health condition occurs when cells rapidly accumulate on the surface of your skin, causing grey/silver plaques and/or painful, red, itchy, dry patches. Skin cells are produced in the deep layers underneath the skin and once a month they typically rise to the surface.
If you suffer from psoriasis, cellular growth occurs more quickly than normal, leaving an accumulation of dead skin cells on the surface of your skin. This health condition can affect any part of your body (scalp, legs and/or back), but it is commonly found under your armpits.
Symptoms of psoriasis may include: irritated armpits, underarm itching, dry, cracked skin under the armpits, inflamed and/or irritated armpits, dry, scaly skin under the armpits and/or pain. In some cases, psoriasis-based itchy armpits may be accompanied by swollen and/or stiff joints.
Keratosis pilaris, a common skin condition, occurs when keratin, a strong protein that protects your skin from damage, accumulates on the surface of your skin. When excess keratin builds up it causes acne-like bumps and/or rough patches of skin in the affected area. This condition can cause your skin to feel like sandpaper.
Keratosis pilaris can be uncomfortable, but it is not life-threatening. Symptoms of this condition may include: acne-like bumps under your armpits, irritated armpits, dry, rough skin under your armpits, itchy armpits and/or inflamed armpits. Although this condition can affect various parts of the body (buttocks, face and legs), it is quite common under the armpits.
This condition can affect people of all ages, but it is especially prevalent in children. It usually resolves itself without medical treatments, but prescription medications and over-the-counter home remedies are available to help speed up recovery. It is important to remember that if you elect to take prescription medications for your condition, the condition may return if you stop the medication prematurely.
Contact dermatitis is another common skin condition that can cause itchy armpits. This condition usually occurs when your skin comes in contact with an allergen, a substance that triggers your immune system and causes it to overreact. Common allergens that can trigger contact dermatitis include: laundry detergents, poison ivy, certain household chemicals and metals.
Contact dermatitis symptoms may include: red, itchy armpits, inflamed armpits and/or irritated armpits. This condition is not serious, but it can be quite uncomfortable. If contact dermatitis causes you to have itchy armpits, it is best to avoid or reduce your contact with the allergen.
Several prescription medications and over-the-counter home remedies can soothe irritated and itchy armpits.
A variety of prescription and over-the-counter antihistamines can help relive itchy armpits. Underarm itching and/or hives can occur when your immune system is stressed, you have an infection and/or you are having an allergic reaction. Antihistamines calm your immune system so it can function normally. If your itchy armpits are accompanied by swollen lips or you have trouble breathing, seek emergency treatment.
Another effective itchy armpit treatment is hydrocortisone. Insect bites and/or allergic reactions can cause itching under the armpits. Hydrocortisone (prescription and over-the-counter), used in conjunction with ice or a cold compress should ease the itching in a couple of days. The hydrocortisone and the coolness should numb the affected area as it heals. If you have nausea, dizziness and/or trouble breathing along with an itchy armpit rash, seek emergency treatment.
Selenium Sulfide Shampoo
If you have itchy armpits, your physician may recommend that you use selenium sulfide shampoo. Although it may sound strange to use shampoo under your armpits, it can help soothe irritated armpits and ease underarm itching. This is especially true, if you experience itchy armpits after shaving. Sometimes the glands under your armpits become inflamed and/or irritated, which causes itchiness and pain. Selenium sulfide shampoo reduces the inflammation and alleviates the itchiness.
Lidocaine can also help relieve itchy armpits. If you experience intense itchiness and pain under your armpits, your physician may prescribe lidocaine creams, patches and/or injections to numb the affected area and provide relief from the underarm itching. In severe cases (an allergic reaction and/or anaphylactic shock) your physician may administer a topical or local lidocaine anesthetic to the affected area.
A variety of over-the-counter home remedies can soothe itchy armpits.
An over-the-counter home remedy that can ease itchy armpits is colloidal oatmeal. Colloidal oatmeal has soothing properties that help soothe itchy armpit rashes. Ease your irritated armpits by placing a cup full of colloidal oatmeal in a bowl or wash basin.
Fill the wash basin or bowel with either warm or slightly cool water. Soak a washcloth in basin or bowl and place it under your armpits for approximately 20 minutes or until the burning and itching has receded. Repeat the process as much as necessary to relieve your itchy armpits. You can purchase colloidal oatmeal over-the-counter at most drugstores.
If itchy armpits become unbearable try using a cold compress. A cold compress can help numb irritated armpits and soothe underarm itchiness. Soak a washcloth in cold water, wring it out and place it in the refrigerator or freezer for 15 to 30 minutes. Place the cold washcloth under your affected armpits for approximately 10 to 15 minutes or until the burning and itching has subsided. Repeat twice a day or when you experience itchy armpits. If the compress gets warm, repeat the previous steps. A cold compress can also act as a cover to prevent you from scratching your itchy armpits.
Wearing loose clothing, specifically shirts, can ease itchy armpits. This is especially prevalent during the summer months. It is common, in hot weather, to sweat under your armpits. The excess moisture can cause underarm itching and irritated armpits. Wearing loose shirts can prevent underarm irritation and itchiness.
Shirts, made from synthetic fibers (polyester), tend to be more irritating to the skin than shirts made from natural fibers (100% cotton). In addition, wash your shirts in mild, unscented laundry detergents and if possible, choose a detergent specifically designed for people with sensitive skin. Detergents with harsh chemicals and fragrances can worsen your irritated and itchy armpits.
Calamine lotion is a popular over-the-counter home remedy when it comes to itchy armpits. This home remedy contains soothing properties that can be used to relieve underarm itchiness. It is important to make sure that the affected area is clean and free from oils before applying the lotion.
Take a washcloth and wash the itchy area with unscented soap. Rinse the area with lukewarm or cool water. Apply the lotion and allow it to dry before covering the area. For the most effectiveness, try pairing calamine lotion with antihistamines.
Another popular over-the-counter home remedy for irritated and/or itchy armpits is witch hazel. Apply witch hazel to your itchy armpit rash with a cotton ball and generously dab your skin with it until the underarm itchiness subsides.
Repeat this process as much as needed until the area heals. If the affected area oozes puss, you have an exposed rash and/or your skin is red, raw and/or irritated from scratching, avoid witch hazel because it may worsen underarm burning and irritation.
American Academy of Family Physicians. (2013). Skin rashes. Retrieved from http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/skin-rashes.html
Mayo Clinic. (2013). Contact dermatitis. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/contact-dermatitis/DS00985/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs
Mayo Clinic. (2013). Itchy skin. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/itchy-skin/DS00847
Mayo Clinic. (2013). Keratosis pilaris. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/keratosis-pilaris/DS00769/DSECTION=treatments- and-drugs
University of Maryland Medical Center. (2013).Psoriasis. Retrieved from http://umm.edu/health/medical/ency/articles/psoriasis