This is the pits.
January 9, 2011 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Owwww! My underarms are inflamed. Help!

My underarms are red and sore. There are no bumps, scratches or weird protrusions. The skin is just tender and red. I don't think it's from shaving because I haven't shaved my underarms in 2 weeks, and this started 4-5 days ago.

I have not been doing anything differently and I don't think I have worn anything made from unusual fabric. Yesterday I didn't wear deodorant, hoping a day off would soothe the skin, but it's just as sore today.

When I shave I always use shave gel. The deodorant I use has never caused irritation before.

What can I do? My GP is not available for an appointment until next Monday, but I need relief NOW. Any suggestions to soothe the skin? One side is worse than the other, and it hurts to be wearing a bra right now.

Thank you for your help.
posted by Small Pockets to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried Desatin or another diaper rash type ointment? Or a cooling gel with aloe (like for when you have a sunburn?)

That'd be my first line of attack, along with lying on my back with my arms stretched over my head and cold packs on my underarms (and no bra!) for as much time as could be arranged.

Since it's actual pain and not just irritation, I'd start with the aloe gel.
posted by SMPA at 7:46 AM on January 9, 2011

It is possible to get yeast infections in your armpits. Any topical yeast infection cream should help.
posted by kimdog at 7:52 AM on January 9, 2011

Quit using your deodorant until it gets better. I had this happen with the regular Tom's of Main deodorant. It was fine for a long time and then one day my armpits were on fire. It took a few days and then it went away.
posted by turtlefu at 7:52 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

No idea what it is, but if it's inflammation and pain you've got, try Advil and an aloe plant until you can get to the doctor. I've never known whether commercial aloe gels are as effective as actual fresh aloe gel out of a plant, so I have the plants. You can get them in the garden sections of Home Depot, Wal-Mart, etc. Cut off a leaf stalk, slice it down one side, peel it open, smear on affected area, or scoop out the gel and smear on. And Advil is anti-inflammatory, so there's an idea. Maybe these things will help in the short term and maybe not. A week might be longer than you want to wait on this, though, if for nothing else than for the discomfort. Could another doctor or a PA at your same doctor's office see you sooner? Good luck.
posted by Askr at 7:56 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are in the US, I'd go into a pharmacy. Sundays are slow days, and pharmacists are incredibly helpful.
posted by vincele at 8:06 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Definitely keep the area uncovered.

Diaper rash ointment sounds like a good bet. A friend of mine also uses the triple antibiotic gel you can get in pharmacies.
posted by sdn at 8:18 AM on January 9, 2011

Seconding yeast infection. You must replace your deodorant to avoid reinfecting yourself. Until it clears up or you can see your GP or dermatologist don't wear deodorant at all.
posted by Allee Katze at 8:20 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stop wearing your deodorant (or any deodorant) immediately till your problem completely goes away. Stop wearing your bra as well, if possible. Diaper rash ointment, Eucerin or something like that is a good thought, or something like aloe as well may help. Yeast infection is a thought.

Does your GP have an associate you could get in to see sooner, or preferably a dermatologist?

Wear clothing that is clean, soft, preferably 100% cotton, and relatively loose fitting, while your skin is irritated. Watch out for anything with a fragrance getting near/on the skin that is irritated, including soap (temporarily switch to a soap like Dove sensitive skin unscented), scented laundry detergent, dryer sheets, etc.. The idea is to give the irritated skin a time out from anything but the mildest possible products so as not to irritate it further until it is completely healed.

Have you worn any new clothing recently? I sometimes react to the stuff that stores put on new clothing to make it smell good, so now I usually have to wash any new blouses or sweaters before I wear them for the first time.

I had a situation where I had no problem with my deodorant for a number of years, and then one day started reacting to it (similar to your symptoms) and had to switch. Sometimes it is just that the company has changed the formula and you are reacting to that, or it could be a new allergy/sensitivity that has developed. Your body changes over time, and people can develop new allergies at any time. I now have to use the mildest most hypoallergenic deodorant and soap I can find. If I were you I would be proactive and after this heals, if it seems like deodorant was the cause, start using a deodorant that is hypoallergenic, fragrance free and identified as for sensitive skin. Almay makes such products, Dove has one, etc..
posted by gudrun at 8:30 AM on January 9, 2011

Sounds similar to what I experienced with shingles.
posted by tmharris65 at 8:33 AM on January 9, 2011

I had something similar happen to me: one day in my early twenties, my underarms just got inflamed, and from that point forward, any time I tried to use any stick deodorant, they would almost immediate re-inflame.

oddly, switching to a gel-type deodorant seemed to solve the problem. So I submit it could very likely be your deodorant that is the culprit, even if it never bothered you before.
posted by namewithoutwords at 8:34 AM on January 9, 2011

Seconding the visit to the pharmacy, anyone else at your GP's office (any PAs or NPs there?), or urgent care. Or you might want to try a dial-a-nurse service if your insurance offers that. Or get a phone consult with someone at your GP's office. And definitely stop using deodorant and wearing bras in the meantime (I know, this may not be an option in the normal scheme of things, but this is not the normal scheme of things. Your pits are on fire!).

Also, have your changed laundry detergent recently or has someone else done your laundry? Extra soap left in the clothes can be very irritating.
posted by mskyle at 8:44 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you tried using a deodorant that doesn't have Aluminum in it? Almost all mainstream brands do. I developed an aluminum allergy as an adult and can no longer use regular deodorant for more than a couple days, before getting the exact same symptoms you list.

I recommend not using any deodorant for a couple days (other than baby powder or something) and then trying one of the non-aluminum brands. You really have to examine the ingredients list. I tried Tom's of Maine but didn't like it. Am using one called "Crystal Essence" right now that works great.
posted by egeanin at 9:21 AM on January 9, 2011

What you're experiencing may be a fungal infection similar to athlete's foot or the prosaically-titled "jock itch". An antifungal talc such as Tinactin may help. Not that I know anything, really, as I am not a doctor.
posted by richyoung at 9:21 AM on January 9, 2011

This happened to me two weeks ago. I feel your pain; it was unbearably itchy. Out of desperation, I washed my underarms with Neutrogena T-Gel shampoo while I was in the shower. I lathered them up and left it on for a few minutes, then rinsed like normal soap. It did seem to provide some relief. You might also try using an antifungal shampoo like Nizoral.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 9:33 AM on January 9, 2011

I had this happen with the regular Tom's of Main deodorant.
Me too! - and after I'd been using it without incident for years. I switched to a different brand, it hasn't recurred.
posted by kickingtheground at 10:27 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

So it could be a yeast infection, a sudden allergy, or something like shingles or inflamed axillary lymph nodes.

I'd start by addressing the first two in ways suggested above, and if that doesn't help see a doctor because it could be one of the latter. Also, OWIE and I am sorry you are experiencing this.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:04 AM on January 9, 2011

turtlefu and kickingtheground, me too! I was also using regular Tom's of Maine deodorant and had to throw it out because it suddenly started making my armpits extremely sore. It took a few days for the pain and redness to go away, I switched to Certain Dri, and the problem hasn't recurred.
posted by keep it under cover at 11:46 AM on January 9, 2011

i've suffered through this for the past few years--and in fact am going through a bout of it now. i can't wear many deodorants, and have been frustrated recently because i can't find the original toms of maine that was the only deodorant i can use. the current 'long lasting' stuff causes irritation.

i ended up seeing a doctor, who gave me a perscription for a steroid cream. cleared up in a few days. an over the counter hydrocortizone cream can also help--especially the ones that also contain aloe.

one thing that i was able to do that helped was using baby wipes. keeping them handy for an occasional wipe during my non deodorant days helped me from smelling too bad.
posted by lester at 12:45 PM on January 9, 2011

Desitin is wonderful, I use it for this all the time. You don't mention if you're male or female and your profile doesn't say, but if you are female: If there's a chance your bra is rubbing the area and causing/worsening the irritation, try going without a bra whenever you can, when you're at home for example.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:34 PM on January 9, 2011

Run an ice cube over your underarms. And put on old-fashioned calamine lotion.
posted by Carol Anne at 4:11 PM on January 9, 2011

Don't give your old favorites a pass.

It's natural to want to rule out soaps, deodorants, and shaving gel that you've been using a long time with no irritation. But products that have been harmless can turn around and cause trouble, even after many years. I had a hell of a time figuring out what was causing some terrible skin itching, because I assumed that washing towels with bleach couldn't be it; I'd been using half the normal amount of bleach in the wash forever, and my mother had done so when I'd lived at home. And I had a similar experience with a facial moisturizer that caused irritation -- I was sure it was fine, because it had been fine for a long time. I was mistaken about that, too.

Another anecdote: a male relative of mine had a terrible rash on his face. It cleared up after he started storing his razor in a jar of alcohol, as a dermatologist suggested.

It's daunting think about all the many possible causes for a skin problem, but ruling anything out presumptively can really delay finding a solution.
posted by wryly at 4:17 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

White vinegar is also good for jock/bra itch.
posted by brujita at 11:02 PM on January 9, 2011

It's good you're seeing a doctor because it could be all kinds of stuff, but I just wanted to point out that you can rule out shingles if the itching and redness are on both armpits. One of the first signs of shingles is that it only affects one side of your body. Good luck, and I hope you feel better!
posted by SoftRain at 7:41 AM on January 10, 2011

Are you in the southern hemisphere? I usually get heat rashes a couple of times during the summer (and it's a tender red area more than a little-bumps-rash). It's totally independent of deoderant for me, and all I can do is stay cool and wait it out. Ice, air conditioning, and alternating between lounging around braless in loose clothes, and going out in tight shirts that prevented skin-on-skin contact.
posted by aimedwander at 8:26 AM on January 10, 2011

Just chiming in as one more person whom Tom's of Maine all of a sudden started bothering all of a sudden. Ah well, it didn't work that well anyways.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 9:39 AM on January 10, 2011

Maybe try shaving or trimming the hair under your armpits. I am a hairy lady and I have this issue when it gets too long or I wear shirts that are too tight in the armpits. I, too, use Tom's of Maine for all of my underarm deodorizing needs. I find so long as I keep the hair shortish (I use a 2 on a beard trimmer), my armpits clean and the underarms of my clothes looser, I don't seem to have a problem.
posted by godshomemovies at 8:16 PM on January 10, 2011

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