Armpit redness is a relatively common issue that is often associated with itchiness or discomfort. It can be caused by a number of triggers from shaving to an allergic reaction to a deodorant. It may also be a sign of a rash, an infection like folliculitis, or a yeast infection.
Most of the time, armpit redness is not serious and relatively easy to treat with warm compresses or in some cases, medication may be needed.
- Redness of the skin
- Itching and/or tenderness
- Bad odor
- Moisture or a feeling of wetness of the skin
Intertrigo is a rash that occurs in areas where skin folds rub together, such as the armpits. Friction, moisture, and sometimes infection with bacteria or yeast are the most common causes.
Intertrigo can be treated by reducing friction and moisture in the armpit. The armpit should be thoroughly washed and dried, and then you can apply a powder, like talc or cornstarch, to dry it out. Wearing moisture-wicking fabrics, like merino wool, is also recommended. If an infection with a bacteria or fungi is suspected, you’ll be given a topical antibacterial or antifungal cream to apply to the area.
2. Allergic contact dermatitis
- Red armpit rash
Allergic contact dermatitis is an itchy rash that occurs when your body becomes sensitive to certain allergens, like fragrances, dyes, or other chemicals. Common products that contain allergens include deodorants, colognes or perfumes, body washes, lotions, and even certain clothing dyes.
Allergic contact dermatitis can often be diagnosed based on the history of your symptoms and the appearance of the rash. In some cases, you may need to get patch testing to identify the specific allergens. Avoiding the allergens is the mainstay of treatment. Topical steroid creams can also be prescribed to heal the rash quicker.
Is a red rash a sign of an allergic reaction?
"I’ve personally found that many patients misinterpret red rashes to mean that they’re having an allergic reaction. There are so many other potential causes, like infections, to also think about."—Dr. Amrita Khokhar
- Itchy and sometimes tender rash
- Red bumps
- Pus-filled bumps
Armpit folliculitis is commonly caused by irritation from shaving. A bacterial infection from the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, can occur at the same time. This leads to the formation of pus-filled bumps, or “pustules,” in the armpit.
Mild cases of folliculitis often get better on their own with time. However, if the folliculitis isn’t improving, your doctor may prescribe a topical antibiotic called mupirocin. In cases where folliculitis is severe or isn’t responding to mupirocin, oral antibiotics might be considered.
- Redness in the armpit area
- Moist appearance
- Itching or soreness
- Cracks in the skin
Candida is a fungus that commonly causes rashes, especially in moist areas like the armpit. Infections with candida also cause “satellite lesions,” which are small red patches or pus-filled bumps that occur scattered around the main rash. If your doctor thinks you have a candida infection, they can perform a skin scraping (biopsy) to look at it under the microscope to confirm the infection.
Keeping the area clean and dry is important. You can use a topical antifungal cream to help clear up the infection. Many antifungal creams are available over-the-counter, but some require a prescription. A prescription powder called nystatin may also be used instead of a cream.
Other possible causes of armpit redness
A number of conditions may also cause armpit redness, though these are either uncommon or armpit redness is not usually the defining symptom.
- Inverse psoriasis: Psoriasis is a skin condition that leads to red rashes on the body. Inverse psoriasis is a specific type that affects skin folds, like the armpits. This skin condition can look a lot like an infection at first, but doesn’t improve with antibiotics or antifungals. There are many different types of treatments available for psoriasis.
- Lymphadenopathy: Lymph nodes are part of your immune system. When lymph nodes swell, it is called lymphadenopathy. Infections are the most common cause of lymphadenopathy, but it can also be a sign of cancer or autoimmune disease. In some cases, lymphadenopathy can also be associated with redness.
- Hidradenitis suppurativa: A condition where the sweat glands and hair follicles in the armpit become inflamed, leading to painful nodules, abscesses, and scarring.
Can deodorant cause an armpit rash?
"Although we often think of deodorant as being the main potential cause of an allergic rash in the armpit area, there are several other culprits to think about, too—laundry products, body washes, and colognes/perfumes, to name a few. Anything that comes into contact with the skin in that area can be a trigger!" —Dr. Khokhar
When to call the doctor
- You feel a lump in your armpit
- You have a lot of pain or itching
- Your skin is cracked or oozing
- The redness doesn’t improve or starts to spread
Should I go to the ER for armpit redness?
Armpit redness rarely requires emergency care. You should contact your primary care doctor or your dermatologist to discuss how to manage your condition.
Treatment of armpit redness
- If your symptoms are due to allergic contact dermatitis, stop using products that contain common allergens like fragrances and dyes. Use fragrance-free soaps, lotions, and deodorants instead.
- Keep the area clean and dry. Use talc or cornstarch powder to keep the area dry if moisture continues to be a problem.
- Wear loose-fitting, sweat-wicking clothing.
Other treatment options
Your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the severity and underlying causes of your armpit redness.
- If allergic contact dermatitis is suspected, you may be referred to an allergist to have patch testing performed. Prescription steroid creams can be used to help clear up the rash in the meantime.
- If your rash is due to an infection, a topical antibiotic or antifungal cream might be prescribed.
- If your armpit redness is thought to be due to a condition like psoriasis, you may be referred to a dermatologist for treatment.
- If you have enlarged lymph nodes in your armpit, you may need imaging studies, like an ultrasound.
What should I do if the rash spreads?
"Tell your doctor if you notice the redness anywhere else on your body. The list of things that can cause a red rash in just the armpit area is fairly short. This list expands to many, many different types of diseases when you consider the whole body." —Dr. Khokhar
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