Breakouts can happen in your underarms just like they can on your face. Armpit breakouts can be itchy and painful. The big question here is, “Can I treat breakouts under my arm like I do facial acne with benzoyl peroxide?” Yes, but only if it truly is acne.

Is It Armpit Acne?

If you currently suffer from acne on your face, chest, and back, the same bacteria may be responsible for your armpit breakouts.

However, it may not be armpit acne. The more common causes of those irritating little bumps are usually folliculitis, contact dermatitis, razor burn, or other minor irritations. Your underarms are a moist area that contains many hair follicles, which can get inflamed, and are most likely the cause of those red, inflamed pimples.

What Causes Red Armpit Bumps?

The primary causes of armpit bumps that may look like zits are:

Folliculitis (Blocked Hair Follicles) – Blockage can happen due to excess sweat, dirt, oil, or deodorants. Bacteria in the follicles multiply and can cause what looks like a sudden acne breakout with bumps surrounded by redness.

Razor bumps– Razor blades can damage hair follicles and irritate the skin, creating conditions favorable for bacteria growth. Razor burn often shows up as raised red bumps on the skin after you shave.

Contact Dermatitis – Something triggers an allergic reaction on your skin, such as a new soap, deodorant, lotion, laundry detergent, or unwashed new clothes. An allergic reaction can cause your underarm skin to become itchy with a red, bumpy rash.

Hidradenitis suppurativa –   This disease can cause small, painful, pimple-like lumps to form under the skin and often reappear. These symptoms tend to start after puberty. Experts believe this disease is connected to hormones and genetics.

Odor Causing Bacteria and Armpit Zits

The same bacteria that can cause zits in your pits is most likely what’s also causing body odor. If you’ve ever forgotten to put on deodorant in the morning, you know what smell we’re talking about. Doctors even have a fancy name for it: Apocrine Bromhidrosis. We just call pit stench.

It’s not sweat that’s causing that waft of a used gym shirt. Our sweat is actually odorless. What causes the stench is the waste from the bacteria that live on our skin.

Ever wonder how the deodorant or antiperspirant you roll under your arms every day works? They’re not all the same. And we’re not talking about aluminum. (Spoiler: there’s currently no evidence aluminum salts in deodorants can cause cancer or alzheimer’s disease. See here and here.)

Deodorants help stop the smell by turning your skin acidic and becoming not welcoming for bacteria. Antiperspirants help reduce sweat production.

Some dermatologists have put two and two together and are recommending some unconventional ways to combat the B.O. problem for those wanting to drop aluminum deodorant—including benzoyl peroxide which clears acne by killing acne-causing bacteria.

Pro Tips for Treating and Preventing Armpit Pimples

Your first step to fighting armpit acne is practicing good hygiene. Wash your underarms twice a day with soap and water to remove sweat, deodorant buildup, bacteria, and germs.

  • Try applying a warm compress if you have a large boil. It can help soothe the pain and help reduce inflammation.
  • Dry your underarms thoroughly. Use a hairdryer set to cold if you are in a hurry.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing so that the sleeves don’t chafe your skin and allow some air to circulate.
  • Change your gym clothes immediately after working out and wash them after every use.
  • Wear breathable clothing made from natural fibers like cotton or linen. Avoid 100% synthetic materials.’
  • Avoid powders or deodorants while you have an armpit breakout.
  • If you shave, always use blades that are not dull. Shave only in one direction, the same direction as the hair growth. Shaving this way helps prevent ingrown hairs.
  • Before shaving, soak your armpits with warm water and use plenty of shaving cream. Never shave dry skin.
  • Consider waxing your armpits to reduce the numbers of times you’re having to remove hair.

If it is Acne, Treat It with PanOxyl Acne Washes

Acne is not picky about where it appears, so armpits are fair game. When it truly is a zit in your pit, the best way to clear it is with our benzoyl peroxide acne washes.

PanOxyl is the leading brand for treating acne and pimples. It contains the doctor-recommended ingredient benzoyl peroxide, clinically proven to destroy bacteria.

You can use it in the shower to treat acne on the face and the body, including your chest, back, and underarms. Most people can use the 10% Acne Foaming Wash. It contains 10% benzoyl peroxide—the maximum strength available without a prescription—that quickly kills bacteria and helps unclog your pores.

If you find the 10% too strong for your skin, use the 4% Acne Creamy Wash for a gentler daily cleansing.

Use PanOxyl washes on your armpits using the same method you would use on your face:

Step 1 – Wet your skin

Step 2 – Apply a dab on your fingertips—enough to coat the area of skin you want to treat

Step 3 – Massage the affected area gently for 1 to 2 minutes

Step 4 – Rinse with lukewarm water and pat dry

Start out applying once daily. You can increase to two or three times daily if needed or recommended by a doctor. Benzoyl peroxide helps break the acne cycle, and your armpit zits will rapidly disappear.

If you’re not sure what’s causing the zits in your pits, remember: your friendly neighborhood dermatologist geeks out over this stuff and would love to help.

Now go forth and tackle your day with confidence and clean smelling, clear armpits!