Navigating the world of skincare can be a challenging venture, especially when it comes to addressing those less-discussed issues—like armpit pimples and bumps. Ever find a pimple under your arm and wonder why it showed up in the first place? We’re here to help.
This skin concern, sometimes referred to as axillary acne, can be very frustrating to deal with. Fortunately, with a better understanding of the possible causes and the right treatment strategies, you can effectively manage and help prevent these blemishes.
Here, we’ll unpack the reasons behind armpit pimples and bumps and explore a range of solutions to help you achieve smoother, healthier skin all over.
Bumps that resemble pimples in your armpit often emerge when the pores in that area become clogged or inflamed, similar to what happens in facial acne.¹ These can manifest as red, inflamed bumps, or even pus-filled pimples. With that said, it's good to know that actual acne doesn't usually occur in the armpit area. These bumps could be indicative of various skin concerns, from simple irritation due to shaving or product use, to more specific conditions like folliculitis or hidradenitis suppurativa.
For proper diagnosis and treatment, consult with a medical provider, who can get you on the path to smoother underarm skin.
Acne-like bumps in your armpits may occur due to a variety of reasons. Let's take a closer look at the potential cause of these bumps.
Folliculitis is a skin condition characterized by the inflammation of hair follicles, the small openings in your skin where hair grows. This inflammation is most commonly caused by a bacterial infection. However, folliculitis is not exclusively bacterial. Other microorganisms, like fungal species and viruses, can also trigger this condition. Additionally, folliculitis can be noninfectious, meaning it could be due to irritation from friction (like shaving), blockages from skin products, or even an inflammatory reaction to body oils or sweat. The condition often presents as red, pus-filled bumps that can itch or be painful.²
It's important to get a correct diagnosis for any persistent skin concerns to ensure appropriate treatment. In the case of folliculitis, treatment options may include antibiotics, antifungal medications, or lifestyle changes to reduce irritation.³
Ingrown hairs are a common skin condition that occurs when a hair, instead of growing outwards, bends backward and re-enters the skin within the follicle. This condition is often triggered by hair removal techniques such as shaving and waxing, which can cause the hair to grow back in an irregular way.
Ingrown hairs present as small, raised red bumps, often looking like pimples. They can sometimes be painful or itchy and may contain pus. While they can appear anywhere hair is removed, they are more common in areas with thicker hair, like the armpits, face, or pubic area.
In many cases, ingrown hairs will resolve on their own without treatment. However, if the symptoms persist or if the area becomes inflamed, it may require intervention. Treatments can range from topical creams to help reduce inflammation or itching, to professional hair removal techniques that minimize the risk of ingrown hairs.⁴
Contact dermatitis is a type of skin inflammation that occurs when the skin comes into contact with a particular substance. This substance could be an allergen, which triggers an allergic response, or an irritant.
Substances that commonly trigger contact dermatitis may include:
In the case of armpit pimples, deodorants or antiperspirants may often be the culprits, as they can contain fragrances or other chemicals that may irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction. Contact dermatitis usually presents as a red, itchy rash, but may also cause blisters or burning, among other symptoms. The best course of action is to identify and avoid the triggering substance. If the rash doesn’t improve on its own, a healthcare professional may prescribe creams or oral medications to reduce inflammation and ease discomfort.⁵
Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS), also known as acne inversa, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition. It's characterized by a recurrent cycle where hair follicles become blocked, leading to inflammation, healing, and ultimately scarring. This condition primarily affects areas where skin rubs against skin, such as the armpits, under the breasts, groin, buttocks, and pubic area.
HS presents as deep lumps that may resemble pimples or boils. These often painful lesions can rupture and leak into the surrounding skin causing a track. The recurring inflammation and healing process leads to scarring over time. HS is relatively rare, affecting less than 1% to 4% of the population. It can have a significant impact on quality of life due to the chronic pain, scarring, and the psychosocial burden it can impose.
The exact cause of HS is unknown, but it’s thought to be linked to hormonal factors, genetics, and environmental triggers. Treatments typically focus on managing symptoms and preventing flares, which can include medication, surgery, and lifestyle changes like weight loss and smoking cessation.⁶ ⁷
You can help prevent armpit pimples similar to the way you help prevent acne on other high-friction areas of your body.
Maintain good hygiene: Keep your armpits clean by regularly using a gentle cleanser to remove sweat, oil, and bacteria, aiding in the prevention of bumps and pimples.⁸ Avoid harsh soaps that can irritate your skin, and instead opt for mild alternatives for a healthier underarm.⁹
Wear breathable clothing: Favor loose, breathable clothing like cotton to prevent armpit pimples. This reduces friction, pressure, and occlusion—factors that can trigger acne formation.¹⁰ Breathable fabrics ensure good airflow to your armpits, minimizing the risk of inflammation and clogged pores.
Use antiperspirant or deodorant: Mitigate excessive sweating, a potential contributor to acne, by applying antiperspirant or deodorant to your armpits.¹¹ Opt for products labeled non-comedogenic or suitable for sensitive skin to lessen the risk of clogged pores. Always review product ingredients to avoid pore-blocking substances.
Avoid shaving irritation: To prevent irritation when shaving your armpits, use a sharp, clean razor and apply shaving cream or gel. Shave in the direction of hair growth to minimize the risk of ingrown hairs and reduce irritation.¹²
Avoid picking or squeezing: Resist the urge to pick or squeeze armpit pimples. Picking can exacerbate inflammation, lead to scarring, and increase the likelihood of infection. Practice patience and allow the pimples to heal naturally to avoid complications.¹³
When it comes to treating armpit pimples, start by addressing it as you would acne on the body. If the condition persists or worsens, consult with a primary care physician or dermatologist in person.
Topical treatments for armpit bumps can play a role in reducing inflammation, unclogging pores, and controlling bacterial growth. Some commonly used topical treatments include:
Benzoyl peroxide: To address armpit pimples effectively, incorporating the use of acne cleansers can be beneficial. Cleansers containing ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide (BP) and salicylic acid can help combat acne-causing bacteria, reduce inflammation, and unclog pores. Consider using the Curology Acne Cleanser with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide or our Acne Body Wash with salicylic acid, applying it to the affected armpit area as directed on the product label.
Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid is a potent ingredient known as a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that offers various benefits for treating acne. It works by helping to clear excess oil in your skin and reduces inflammation.¹⁴
Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is a natural remedy with notable antibacterial properties that can aid in reducing acne.¹⁵ In theory, it may help with armpit bumps as well. To apply tea tree oil, first dilute a few drops with a carrier oil. Using a cotton swab, apply the diluted mixture to the affected armpit area. This dilution helps prevent skin irritation while allowing the oil to penetrate effectively.¹⁶
Remember, armpit pimples may be related to another condition, and if simple measures do not resolve the issue, it’s important to have them evaluated.
For your acne, rosacea, or anti-aging concerns, seek personalized care from Curology. By answering a handful of questions and taking photos of your skin concerns, a licensed dermatology provider can prescribe a personalized formula—catered to your specific needs. Sign up for a trial today.*
Deodorants and antiperspirants can cause armpit bumps. These products may lead to irritant and allergic reactions, known as axillary dermatitis. Look for non-comedogenic deodorants to minimize the risk of bumps and skin issues in the armpit area.¹⁷
The duration of armpit cysts can vary from person to person. In some cases, cysts may not resolve on their own and may require medical intervention. The most effective treatment often involves complete surgical excision of the cyst. However, if there is an active infection present, the procedure may be delayed. Consult a dermatology provider for proper evaluation, advice, and assistance regarding possible armpit cysts.¹⁸
To help prevent getting pimples in your armpits, consult with a dermatology provider to receive appropriate treatment tailored to your specific needs. They can provide guidance, and prescribe medications or recommend procedures to address the underlying causes of armpit bumps. You can also implement preventative measures to minimize the occurrence of armpit bumps. This includes practicing good hygiene by regularly cleansing the area, avoiding harsh soaps, wearing breathable clothing, using non-comedogenic deodorants, and avoiding picking or squeezing pimples.
By combining professional treatment and preventative measures, you can effectively manage and reduce the occurrence of pimples/bumps in your armpits.
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Lu, J., et al. Salicylic acid treats acne vulgaris by suppressing AMPK/SREBP1 pathway in sebocytes. Exp Dermatol. (July 2019).
Malhi, H.K, et al. Tea tree oil gel for mild to moderate acne; a 12 week uncontrolled, open-label phase II pilot study. Australas J Dermatol. (August 2017).
Orchard, A., et al. The Influence of Carrier Oils on the Antimicrobial Activity and Cytotoxicity of Essential Oils. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. (2019, January 14).
Zirwas, M.J. and Moennich, J. Antiperspirant and Deodorant Allergy: Diagnosis and Management. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (September 2008).
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Laura Phelan is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Benedictine University and went on to get her post-master’s certificate as a Family Nurse Practitioner at the University of Cincinnati.
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Laura Phelan, NP-C