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April 16, 2015

By Joseph Strongoli, Contributing Columnist

The scratch under the armpit jig, often used in jest to
imitate a monkey, in truth corresponds to a less humorous
condition. Common in many men and women, chronic
underarm itchiness can range from the mildly
discomforting, to irritating, to borderline torturous.

The blanket medical term for chronic itchiness is
"pruritus", but the symptoms may vary depending on the
underlying causes of the condition.

That’s right, the onset of pruritus can be caused by
various different preceding conditions. And while
scratching the itch under your arm might bring temporary
relief, it can further harm and irritate the skin and cause
lacerations that could get infected. If you have pruritus of
the armpits, the first step is to understand the underlying
cause, and then select the appropriate treatment.

Causes of Itchy Armpits

Lack of Hygiene
: The most common cause of itchy skin?
Bad hygiene! Because they produce a lot of sweat and do
not get much air circulation, armpits are susceptible to
bacteria buildup and clogged pores. Make sure that you
are washing your underarms thoroughly and frequently.

Deodorants and Anti-Perspirants: No, good hygiene does
not consist of merely covering up your smells. Your
pruritus may be due to an allergic reaction to your
deodorant or anti-perspirant. But even if you aren’t
allergic to your Old Spice,  it can clog your sweat glands
and lead to the next three conditions on the list:

Miliaria Rubra: This is a heat rash caused by hot and humid
environments, and also occurs when the sweat glands are
blocked. This condition is characterized by itchy and
painful red bumps sprouting up on the skin.

Hidradenitis Suppurativa: This is a chronic skin syndrome
characterized by itchiness, blackheads, and abscesses that
affect the apocrine sweat glands in your armpits. It is
generally caused by plugged sweat glands, excessive
sweating, heat and humidity, and is exacerbated by friction
from clothing.

Dermatitis: This condition is characterized by chronic
inflammation and itching of the skin under the arms, along
with skin lesions and redness. Like the above conditions,
dermatitis can occur as an allergic reaction to perfumes,
soaps, detergents, antibiotics, deodorants and anti-
perspirants, and other topical agents. Some types of
fabric, such as athletic spandex, can cause underarm

Candida Yeast Infection: Candida Albicans is a yeast
fungus commonly present throughout the body. But it is
an opportunistic infectious agent: when the immune
system is down, an overgrowth of yeast results, especially
in moist areas. Thus yeast infections are common in the
groin, armpit, and mouth. In the armpit, it can cause the
skin to peel and itch, and a red rash may be present.

Axillary Hyperhidrosis: This is a condition of excessive
sweating in the armpits, due to an overstimulation of the
sweat glands. Current research is inconclusive regarding
the causes of this condition.

Inverse Psoriasis: This condition causes an overgrowth of
skin cells, with symptoms including smooth, thick, scaly
skin and dry or red patches. It can cause pain as well as
itching. Obesity is linked to the onset of inverse psoriasis.
Lichen Planus: A disease of the skin and mucous
membranes that causes skin lesions that resembles lichen.

The cornucopia of causes underlying pruritus make
treating it a daunting proposition.

Fortunately, there are a number of treatments that have
been proven to be powerfully effective. These treatments
include general measures aimed at improving overall
hygiene and healthy habits to limit the environment that
many of the above conditions flourish under, to specific
strategies that involve medications and natural remedies.

Here are the top 7 treatments for itchy armpits:

Aloe Vera

This wonder plant has multiple uses ranging from
osteoarthritis to ulcerative collitis, diabetes, asthma, and
even cancer therapy. But Aloe has an especially remarkable
effect on the skin; it has been used topically to treat burns,
sunburn, frostbite, varicose veins, psoriasis, dandruff,
diaper rash, dry skin, cold sores (herpes simplex virus),
bed sores, and to help surgical wounds heal faster. A 2008
study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, led
by Dr. C. Choonhakarn et al., found that aloe was effective
in treatment for lichen planus: after 8 weeks of treatment
of oral lesions with aloe gel, there was a significant
improvement in 88% of patients.

Witch Hazel

A  2011 study at Kingston University, London led by Dr.
Declan Naughton et al., found that witch hazel, an
astringent produced from the leaves and bark of the North
American Witch Hazel shrub, had considerable anti-
collagenase, anti-elastase and calatase activities.

These are skin damaging enzymes produced by bacteria
and viruses. In addition to these activities, witch hazel has
been used historically to treat swellings, skin tumors, and


A 1993 study at the University of Michigan led by Dr. C.N .
Ellis et al., studied the effect of topical capsaicin, the main
active ingredient found in red hot chili peppers, on pruritic
psoriasis. They found that after a short period of burning
sensation, the patients demonstrated significant reduction
in pruritus relief and improvement in global evaluation.

Calamine Lotion

Calamine is a mixture of zinc oxide and ferric oxide or a
zinc carbonate compound. It has been used traditionally to
treat sunburn, rashes, poison ivy, poison oak, chickenpox,
and insect bites and stings, along with inflammatory
dermatoses, such as acne, rosacea, and eczema.

Calamine is a veritable panacea for the skin. A 2009 study
by Dr. J. Revuz published in the Journal of the European
Academy of Dermatology and Venereology found zinc, the
main active ingredient in calamine, to be an effective
treatment to combat the symptoms of hidradenitis

Coconut Oil

A  2004 study by Dr. A.L. Agero at the Makati Medical
Center in the Philippines applied coconut oil to patients
with xerosis, or excessive dry skin characterized by dry,
rough, scaly and itchy skin and decreased skin barrier

The study found that the coconut oil was effective in
increasing skin hydration and skin surface lipid levels, and
the symptoms of dryness, scaling, roughness, and pruritus
were significantly reduced.

They also demonstrated coconut oil’s safety by
demonstrating no change in skin surface water retention
and skin pH.

Dead Sea Water Solution

The Dead Sea in Israel is one of the most salt and mineral
enriched bodies of water in the world, and has long been a
bathing mecca for sufferers of various skin disorders. A
2011 study at the Dead Sea Laboratories Science Center in
Israel led by Dr. M Portugal-Cohen found that an emollient
cream enriched with Dead Sea water dramatically
increased skin barrier function, transepidermal water loss,
and stratum corneum hydration in patients with severe
atopic dermatitis, a form of psoriasis.

Magnesium Salts

A 2005 study published in the International Journal of
Dermatology, led by Dr. Ehrhardt Proksch et al., studied
the effects of magnesium salts solutions in treating
dermatitis and dry, itchy skin.

They found that the solution improved skin barrier
function, enhanced stratum corneum hydration, and
reduced skin roughness and inflammation. They concluded
the effectiveness is due to magnesium salts’ properties of
binding water, influencing epidermal proliferation and
differentiation, and enhancing permeability barrier repair.

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Dermatitis is a common cause of under arm itching.
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