Symptoms A-Z

What Causes Armpit Redness or Rash & How to Treat It

Red armpits can also be itchy, painful, or appear as little red dots. The most common cause of red armpits is an allergic reaction to certain hygienic products or chemicals. Other irritants that cause redness in the armpit include scabies or infected hair follicles. Read below for more information on causes and treatment options.

This symptom can also be referred to as: axilla redness

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Armpit Redness Symptoms

The armpit, or axilla, is the area beneath where the arm connects to the shoulder. It is best-known for being prone to moisture or odor. Armpit redness is a common symptom of many different conditions. Fortunately, it does not usually signal a serious underlying problem. The armpit is a sensitive area, and redness is often the result of temporary irritation that resolves with treatment.

Common characteristics of armpit redness

The armpit is susceptible to friction on a daily basis because of clothing and moisture produced by sweat glands. This lack of air movement and freedom can exacerbate any existing irritation and worsen symptoms. Armpit redness may also be described by:

  • Discomfort
  • Sensitivity
  • Tenderness or pain

Common accompanying symptoms

In addition to the above characteristics, you may also experience:

  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Foul odor
  • Soreness or pain
  • Warmth to the touch
  • Dry skin or scaling

Discuss these symptoms with your physician in order to get appropriate treatment, especially if your armpit redness persists.

Armpit Redness Causes

Fortunately, the causes of armpit redness are fairly limited and easy to diagnose as most involve the skin and hair follicles. The following details may help you better understand your symptoms. See a physician for armpit redness that worsens or persists.

Skin structure

The skin is the largest organ of the body and has multiple components, such as the following. See this image here for a visual representation of the layers of the skin.

  • Epidermis: This is the outermost layer of the skin visible to the eye. It contains specialized cells responsible for providing pigment to the skin (melanocytes), protecting the skin (Langerhans cells), and allowing the skin to feel pressure (Merkel cells).
  • Dermis: This is the middle layer of the skin. It contains a network of tough but elastic collagen fibers that make the skin strong and stretchy and a network of nerves and blood vessels that allow the passage of nutrients and oxygen. The dermis also contains sweat glands.
  • Subcutis/Subcutaneous layer: This is the deepest layer of skin, which contains fat and connective tissue. It acts as a shock absorber and insulator and produces hormones like vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight.

Inflammatory causes

Most causes of armpit redness are inflammatory in nature.

  • Infectious: The skin is home to the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (staph). Although it is a normal component of the skin flora, it is the leading cause of human bacterial infections and can result in redness and irritation of the skin. This type of skin infection is called cellulitis [1]. Staph aureus can enter the skin via small lesions or cuts and result in painful, red, swollen areas on the skin. Other types of bacteria, fungi, and viruses can also cause such infections; however, Staph aureus is the most common.
  • Autoimmune: Many inflammatory diseases that result in the body attacking itself can result in chronic inflammation. Inflammation commonly occurs in the intertriginous areas of the body, or where two skin areas touch together. This includes the armpit, skin folds of the breasts, and genital area. Inflammatory conditions of the armpit that have an autoimmune component often involve occlusion of the hair follicles.

Dermatologic causes

Many skin conditions such as eczema, hives, psoriasis, hidradenitis suppurativa, folliculitis, and a variety of other illnesses that specifically affect the skin can cause armpit redness [2-4]. Often, such conditions are also associated with symptoms such as blistering or flaking. On the other hand, skin that is simply dry due to old age or temperature changes can also result in similar symptoms.

Environmental causes

Environmental factors may be related to hygiene and other exposures.

  • Irritants: Many substances can irritate the skin and cause rashes and redness. This is known as dermatitis. Products such as heavily scented soaps, lotions, and perfumes, as well as shaving around the armpits, can be very irritating and cause inflammation to the armpits due to allergic or sensitivity reactions.
  • Poor hygiene: Proper hygiene is necessary to maintain general health. Regularly cleaning underneath the armpits with mild soap and water can keep harmful bacteria away, especially after heavy perspiration.

6 Possible Armpit Redness Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced armpit redness. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Allergic contact dermatitis of the armpit

Allergic contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin becomes irritated and inflamed following physical contact with an allergen. Common products known to cause allergic dermatitis include plants, metals, soap, fragrance, and cosmetics.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: armpit redness, armpit itch, scabbed armpit bump

Symptoms that always occur with allergic contact dermatitis of the armpit: armpit redness

Urgency: Self-treatment

Non-specific armpit rash

A rash is an area of irritated or swollen skin. Often, rashes are unidentifiable and some variation of normal. For example, scratching one's arm causes it to turn red (which is caused by mast cells releasing chemicals into the local area), but that's completely normal.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: armpit redness

Symptoms that always occur with non-specific armpit rash: armpit redness

Urgency: Wait and watch

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep layers of the skin. It can appear anywhere on the body but is most common on the feet, lower legs, and face.

The condition can develop if Staphylococcus bacteria enter broken skin through a cut, scrape, or existing skin infection such as impetigo or eczema.

Most susceptible are those with a weakened immune system, as from corticosteroids or chemotherapy, or with impaired circulation from diabetes or any vascular disease.

Symptoms arise somewhat gradually and include sore, reddened skin.

If not treated, the infection can become severe, form pus, and destroy the tissue around it. In rare cases, the infection can cause blood poisoning or meningitis.

Symptom of severe pain, fever, cold sweats, and fast heartbeat should be seen immediately by a medical provider.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

Treatment consists of antibiotics, keeping the wound clean, and sometimes surgery to remove any dead tissue. Cellulitis often recurs, so it is important to treat any underlying conditions and improve the immune system with rest and good nutrition.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain

Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis: facial redness, area of skin redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Armpit Redness Symptom Checker

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Scabies

Scabies is a rash caused by the microscopic human itch mite. It burrows into the top layer of skin to feed and causes severe itching and irritation.

The mite spreads through direct contact or through infested bedding or furniture. It can infect anyone, though most susceptible are:

  • Children.
  • Sexually active young adults.
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system.
  • Patients in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Symptoms include intense itching, especially at night, and a rash of tiny red bumps. Scratching may cause the rash to form sores, scales, or crusts. The rash most often forms between the fingers, in the folds of the wrists and elbows, and any place normally covered by clothing.

It is important to get treatment because the scratching can cause an infection in the skin. In children, mites can cover nearly the entire body.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and skin test.

Treatment involves a prescription for skin cream. Everyone who has come into contact with the affected person must be treated, even if they show no symptoms.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: vaginal itch or burning, vulvovaginal redness, feeling itchy or tingling all over, butt itch, elbow itch

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Lymphangitis

Lymphangitis is a condition resulting in inflamed lymphatic vessels due to an infection. The lymphatic system runs throughout the body and consists of both nodes and these vessels. The nodes produce lymph — the clear fluid that bathes and nourishes the organs and other tissues — while the vessels cir...

Folliculitis

Folliculitis is a common skin problem where hair follicles are infected by bacteria or fungi.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: small facial lump, pink or red facial bump, face itch, facial bump leaking yellow/milky fluid, yellow or white facial bump

Symptoms that always occur with folliculitis: small facial lump

Urgency: Self-treatment

Armpit Redness Treatments and Relief

At-home treatments

Usually, armpit redness is not a serious condition and can be adequately treated at home with simple lifestyle changes.

  • Proper shaving technique: Armpit redness is often the result of razor burn that occurs due to friction from shaving over ingrown hairs. The medical term for this is pseudofolliculitis barbae [5]. Adjusting your shaving routine by using a single-blade razor, applying shaving cream before shaving and using a warm compress after shaving, or stopping shaving altogether may help treat and prevent armpit redness.
  • Avoid allergens: Take note of symptoms that occur after wearing certain clothing or using new products such as deodorant. These products may be causing symptoms.
  • Practice proper hygiene: Regularly clean the armpit with unscented, dermatologically tested soaps or lotions in order to prevent bacterial growth that could lead to infection.

When to see a doctor

However, if your armpit redness continues despite the remedies above, make an appointment with your doctor. Your condition may be caused by more serious inflammatory or dermatologic conditions that require advanced treatment. Your physician may discuss and prescribe the following medications:

  • Corticosteroid creams: If your redness is due to a rash or skin disorder such as eczema or dermatitis, corticosteroids are helpful since they are both anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive.
  • Antibiotics: If your symptoms are due to bacterial skin infection, your doctor will prescribe appropriate antibiotics to target the specific pathogen.

When it is an emergency

Armpit redness rarely presents as an emergency. Redness from cellulitis may develop into an abscess (collection of pus due to infection) that can be extremely painful and uncomfortable, but this is usually not a life-threatening emergency.

Prevention

Prevention of armpit redness follows the same principles of at-home treatment detailed above. The same remedies can be used to prevent armpit redness, especially the adjustments to your shaving routine and technique. Talk more with your physician about preventative strategies and advice.

FAQs About Armpit Redness

What is an ingrown hair?

Ingrown hairs are bumps on the skin associated with shaving that result from an inflammatory response to cutaneous entrapment of recently cut short hairs. Improper shaving techniques or too frequent shaving can cause hairs that have already exited the skin to reenter the epidermis and cause bumps, as seen here.

What is pseudofolliculitis barbae?

Also known as razor bumps, pseudofolliculitis barbae is a skin condition that occurs when hairs grow back into the skin causing inflammation and multiple, hard bumps on the skin as seen here.

Does pseudofolliculitis barbae only occur on the face?

No, pseudofolliculitis barbae can occur on any part of the skin/hair that is exposed to shaving such as the legs, armpits (axilla), or genital area.

Will the redness in my armpit resolve?

Armpit redness can be either temporary or chronic depending on the underlying cause. Usually, armpit redness associated with allergens or irritants resolves once exposure to the offending agent is discontinued. However, armpit redness associated with chronic conditions that are inflammatory in nature may take longer to resolve, especially if adequate treatment is not attained.

Why is aluminum in deodorant dangerous?

According to the National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute, some research suggests that aluminum-containing underarm antiperspirants, which are applied frequently and left on the skin near the breast, may be absorbed by the skin and have estrogen-like (hormonal) effects. Because estrogen can promote the growth of breast cancer cells, some scientists have suggested that the aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants may contribute to the development of breast cancer; however, there are no current studies that have confirmed direct causality of aluminum-containing antiperspirants increasing the risk of breast cancer [6].

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Armpit Redness

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Do you have a rash?
  • Did your symptoms start after you were exposed to nickel (commonly found in jean snaps, metal pens, paper clips, cigarettes, etc.)?
  • Did you possibly brush into poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac?
  • Did your symptoms start after you were exposed to glues, fragrances, preservatives, hair dyes, soaps, detergents, or other common household chemicals?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your armpit redness

Armpit Redness Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced armpit redness have also experienced:

  • 21% Armpit Pain
  • 17% Armpit Itch
  • 7% Armpit Lump

People who have experienced armpit redness were most often matched with:

  • 80% Cellulitis
  • 20% Allergic Contact Dermatitis Of The Armpit

People who have experienced armpit redness had symptoms persist for:

  • 40% Less than a week
  • 19% Less than a day
  • 18% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Armpit Redness Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Informed Health Online [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Erysipelas and cellulitis: Overview. 2015 Jun 3. Updated 2018 Feb 22. NCBI Link
  2. Folliculitis. BMJ. Updated June 2018. BMJ Link
  3. Luba MC, Bangs SA, Mohler AM, Stulberg DL. Common benign skin tumors. American Family Physician. 2003;67(4):729-738. AAFP Link
  4. Hidradenitis suppurativa. American Academy of Dermatologists. AAD Link
  5. Ingrown hairs. NHS. Reviewed May 24, 2016. NHS Link
  6. Antiperspirants/deodorants and breast cancer. National Cancer Institute. Reviewed August 9, 2016. NCI Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.