Ever found yourself fighting for balance on the MRT because you were in a tank top and were afraid to bare those dark underarms to the world by reaching for an overhead handhold? Ever missed getting a cab because you didn’t want to stretch out and hail one due to a hairy situation? We’ve been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt (literally!), so we know how frustrating it is!
On our GirlTalk forums, "Underarm problems and solutions" is a hot topic. So we've decided to compile some tips and tricks for you to include in your beauty and hygiene routines. Find out what you can do to turn killer kilikilis into pretty pits!
[Click here to discuss underarm problems and solutions on GirlTalk]
Click on an issue to learn more about each topic, or simply read on.
- Eau de You: Body Odor
- A Certain Kind of Glow: Sweat Stains
- A Hairy Situation: Underarm Hair
- In the Dark: Skin Discoloration
EAU DE YOU
Let's start with the most sensitive subject: smell. For every other dilemma in this situation, sleeves, a shawl, or just refusing to raise your arms can help you keep it to yourself. But you can't hide a telltale smell that easily. If this is your problem, it's best to go back to basics and take a good look at your personal hygiene practices.
Bathing regularly and keeping yourself clean is a must. Though you won't be able to avoid breaking into a sweat in our tropical clime, it's when that sweat interacts with bacteria that a difficulty with odor arises. Add to this the fact that your underarm has a high concentration of sweat glands--since it is also has a high concentration of hair follicles--and you'll understand why this is such a problem area. You may notice that if you’re lucky enough to have naturally sparse underarm hair, you may not perspire as much or have problems with odor.
Choose a deodorant that has antibacterial (not just anti-perspirant) properties. Your underarm skin is particularly sensitive, so if you react severely to most products, make sure the formulation you choose is designed for sensitive skin to avoid itchy pits. Natural or organic options have fewer side effects and may be the way to go, even if you’re not particularly sensitive to chemicals; if you want to try natural ingredients, look for the following:
- Witch hazel and chamomile soothe sensitive skin, so they may help avoid irritation.
- Tawas or alum (a reliable standby for your mother or grandmother) has natural antibacterial properties and is non-comedogenic (it doesn’t block pores).
- Tea tree oil, calendula, and rose are all natural antibacterials which help neutralize odor.
- Baking powder or Sodium Bicarbonate neutralizes the acidity of your skin. It is used either dissolved in water or in dry powder form.
- Zinc Ricinoleate, which is extracted from the seeds of castor oil, also neutralizes the PH balance of your skin.
You can also use kitchen ingredients like vinegar, rosemary, and sage to make a natural deodorant.
However, if the smell persists despite meticulous hygiene and extra-strength deodorant, you should consult a dermatologist. Something else may be causing the smell. Possible culprits are your diet, smoking--tobacco is secreted through your skin, and it’s a particularly malodorous ingredient to mix with your perspiration--or a medical condition. As with most other medical problems, the longer you leave it, the harder it will be to cure, so set aside any embarrassment you might feel and see a dermatologist!
A CERTAIN KIND OF GLOW
The heat and humidity of tropical climates makes sweat stains perfectly natural, but if the dampness makes you uncomfortable, consider using an anti-perspirant. There have been some concerns about certain ingredients in these formulations, though: aluminum-derived ingredients and parabens are two of the most common chemicals that have given people pause, and doctors are conducting studies to determine how these substances may contribute to certain medical condition such as cancer and Alzheimer's. But results are still conflicting and inconclusive.
If you’re concerned about this and would like to take a more natural approach to preventing perspiration, look for products with sage, which has anti-perspirant properties. Choose breathable fabrics such as cotton to help you keep cool. Keeping yourself well hydrated to manage your body temperatire will also help reduce your tendency to sweat.
A HAIRY SITUATION
Yet another sensitive subject! Despite the cultural preference for removing underarm hair, it is really completely arbitrary. If you miss a couple of days and get some pit stubble, don’t panic—sleeves were made for a reason. If you want to get bare underarms, there are a number of safe and comfortable options. Whatever method you choose, use clean materials and tools to avoid bacteria transfer, and if you're having the treatment done at a salon, make sure their practices are sanitary.
Shaving is the quickest and most convenient method of removing hair from your underarm. Make sure that your razor is sharp and clean; nicks are more likely with a dull razor, and cuts on and around the underarms are very painful.
Shave according to the direction of hair growth—it may seem easier on your legs than in your pits, but try to conform to the curves to get the closest shave possible. This way, you are less likely to get ingrown hairs and possibly folliculitis, which is an itchy and infection of the hair follicle.
When shaving, use proper shaving cream or oils--in a pinch, use conditioner! Proper moisturizing is important, so shave while you’re in the shower when your skin is softer. This will help reduce the incidence of continuous incremental breakage of the skin that may result in the darkening of your armpits, which can happen with constant dry shaving. Apply a gentle moisturizer afterwards to soothe your skin.
The downside to shaving is that you are merely cutting hair at the follicle, which means it will appear to grow faster and even thicker. Shaving may also cause ingrown hairs or razor bumps, which you can treat with salicylic acid or by exfoliating before you shave or pluck. Another skin condition that may develop is keratosis pilaris, which is more commonly known as chicken skin or protein buildup on the hair follicle. Usually aggravated by dry skin, it can be treated with lactic acid; however, this only manages its appearance and not the cause. Though shaving can serve when you're in a bind, consider the other options for regular hair removal.
Though plucking is more time-consuming than shaving, many women prefer this method. Plucking attempts to remove the hair at the root, so you are less likely to get infections, as long as you use a clean and working pair of tweezers. Try to find a pair with a tip that rises to a point, which will make it easier to grab the finer or shorter hairs that you might miss otherwise. If you don't mind the pain of tweezing but find it too time-consuming, consider waxing.
Waxing is done by applying warm wax to the skin, then allowing it to cool a bit before it's pulled off in the opposite direction of your hair growth, pulling off hair at the roots. Because it can be applied over larger patches of skin, it’s much quicker than plucking. It is easy enough that you can learn to do it yourself with the right equipment, but you need to be careful that the wax isn't too hot to avoid the risk of burns.
Waxing can be painful for some women, so avoid having a wax three days before and after your period, when you are most sensitive to pain. Avoid swimming and warm baths for 48 hours after you get waxed.
Make sure to wax over a portion of skin only once, otherwise your skin can become broken or irritated. This means you'll probably use a combination of waxing and plucking to remove any remaining stray hairs. Your hair has to be at least a quarter of an inch long for the wax to be effective, so you'll have to grow it out a bit between waxes. Regrowth takes longer with this method, so you can be hair-free for up to six weeks.
Salons such as Piandre and the Basement Salon and day spas like Neo offer this service, as do waxing salons such as Strip. If you’d like to try DIY waxing, leading supermarkets and department stores sell wax strips you can apply at home; the Sally Hansen line of hair removal products provides a choice of wax or gel to be used with cloth strips that can rewashed.
You can also try sugaring, which doesn't use wax but a food-based paste or gel. The difference between sugaring and waxing is that sugaring requires that you pull in the direction of hair growth, which is less irritating to the skin. This allows you to use the strips over a portion of skin twice to get any hair left behind. Because the paste is water soluble, it is also easier to remove from the skin.
The Lay Bare Waxing Salons offer another alternative if you prefer not to use hot wax or if your skin is easily irritated. They use a cold sugar wax made of calamansi, honey, and sugar. The Body Shop offers sugaring kits, which also comes in a roll-on version that has chamomile and lavender to soothe your skin.
When waxing or sugaring, exfoliate a couple of days before treatment and do a patch test to ensure that you don’t have an adverse reaction. Prepare tweezers to remove the stray hairs left behind and a light moisturizer to soothe irritated skin.
Laser Hair Removal:
To dramatically reduce your hirsuteness, the application of laser light on the melanin present in your hair follicles may be effective. Similarly, Intense Pulse Light or IPL uses concentrated light, which targets just the hair follicle and will not affect the surrounding skin. In both cases, the treatment will be completed over a number of sessions, but you will be able to enjoy smoother skin with less risk of ingrown hairs.
These procedures require special equipment, so be safe and seek reliable professional service--some options are Strip, Facial Care Center, and the Clarity Aesthetic Medical and Dental Center. Although this is a permanent solution, the cost may be substantial, and the repeat sessions requires commitment to follow through.
Whatever method you use, remember that you shouldn't remove hair from infected or irritated skin since it may only aggravate your skin condition--and being infection-free is definitely more important than a few hairs! To be on the safe side, consult a dermatologist before trying out a new method to make sure that it is right for your skin type.
[Click here to read FN’s Guide to Hair Removal]
IN THE DARK
Any discussion of whitening creams and gels should include the causes your dark pits. Hyperpigmentation can result from a number of things, such as using a deodorant formulation that is not right for you and which irritates your skin, trauma caused by friction due to hair removal (especially shaving), or wearing too-tight clothing.
To deal with the problem, there are several whitening deodorants (Godiva is a popular brand) available, but if you want to be sure, consult a dermatologist about bleaching or lightening your underarms. The natural ingredients that lighten are Licorice, Vitamin C, Kojic Acid, and Glutathione, so look for brands or treatments which contain these. Hydroquinone also inhibits melanin growth, which could visibly lighten your skin, but there are studies which link it to cancer, so tread carefully.
The whitening of your skin does take time and patience, so don’t expect overnight results. Drugstore and dermatologist-prescribed creams both require constant application over a sustained period of time. Peels designed for the face should be used with care, and the application should be discontinued if any irritation occurs.
Taking care of your body should make you feel good, so if you're getting stressed just because you don't have time to shave or wax, or if you don't have the dough for laser treatments, pull on something with sleeves—or if you're brave, think of yourself as European. Just as long as you're clean and smelling fresh, you’ll be able to pull of anything with panache.
(Photos courtesy of Rustan’s—halter top photo from Eberjay, black bikini photo from Despi)