Armpit Fungus – Sweat, Irritation & Perfume Allergy

An armpit fungus is a ringworm infection which occurs on the skin of the axilla (armpit) causing itching, burning and darkening of the skin under the arms. Similar to fungal infections on other areas of the body, an armpit fungus can be persistent given the high moisture content (due to armpit sweat), low light (covered by clothing) and warmth (due to body heat).

What Causes an Armpit Fungus?

An armpit fungus is caused by skin fungi,  usually skin molds or dermatophytes, that consume the superficial layers of the skin. Medically, a skin mold is referred to as a tinea infection and a fungal infection of the armpit is known as tinea axillaris. However most armpit fungal infections may extend beyond just the area of the armpit to surrounding skin and it is common to refer to the infection as tinea corporis (fungal infection on the body) involving the axillae. A skin yeast or cutaneous candidiasis may also be responsible.

While an armpit fungus is caused by skin fungi, infection usually arises as a result of other predisposing factors that may cause breaks in the skin. In terms of an armpit fungus, local conditions are the main contributing factors which may initially cause an armpit rash that is then infected by a fungus. Often, an armpit fungus may occur as a result of secondary spread, where fungal strands or spores are transferred from other areas of the body due to scratching with the fingers or using a towel on both areas after bathing.

Armpit Rash

An armpit skin rash may vary from contact dermatitis to intertrigo which occurs as a result of abrasion or chaffing. The most common contributing factors to an armpit rash include sweat, scratching the armpits or a perfume allergy. Less commonly, eczema or atopic dermatitis may be the cause of an armpit rash as it predominantly occurs on the folds of the skin, including areas like the elbow and behind the knees. Any break or persistent inflammation of the skin makes it prone to a fungal infection.

1. Armpit Sweat

The armpits, like the feet, are a sweaty area of the body caused by the warmth (body heat) in these areas.  Due to the confined area and thick armpit hair, sweat may build up and cause irritation of the skin. An increase in naturally occurring skin bacteria in the armpits may further aggravate any rash in this area. In cases of hyperhidrosis or excessive perspiration, the increased sweat may cause peeling which affects the skin’s integrity to prevent infiltration and infection from outside pathogens.

2. Armpit Irritation

Irritation of the armpits is often due to a combination of factors including armpit sweat, armpit hair, other skin diseases and warm or tight clothing causing chaffing. Poor ventilation in the area adds to any irritation. Usually this causes itchy armpits with a burning sensation after vigorous scratching. The skin irritation is  often due to inflammation and the damaged skin is unable to maintain a protective barrier which allows a skin fungus to quickly infect the skin of the armpits.

3. Armpit Perfume Allergy

perfume_allergyPerfumes and deodorants are commonly used on the armpits to reduce body odor which often emanates from under the arms. Based on individual skin sensitivity, perfume or deodorants may cause contact dermatitis which is often noticed as an itching or burning sensation shortly after applying any of these applications. Anti-perspirant deodorants leave a powdery residue that adheres to the skin over long periods and this may further aggravate any dermatitis. Allergies to perfumes or deodorants results in inflammation of the skin and scratching the area may result in breaks in the skin. Perfumed soaps, shower gels and body creams or lotions may cause a similar reaction.

Signs and Symptoms of an Armpit Fungus

An armpit fungus usually presents similar to fungal infections elsewhere on the body.

  • Itching
  • Burning under the arms usually due to scratching excessively and the damage caused by fingernails.
  • Flakes or specks of skin noticeable on the clothing or after scratching.
  • Dark discoloration of the skin under the arms.
  • Musty body odor which may also be due to skin bacteria and poor ventilation.

Treatment for an Armpit Fungus

The treatment for an armpit fungus is similar to that of a skin fungal infection elsewhere on the body. Topical antifungal creams, lotions or gels are usually effective for eradicating any skin fungus and should be continued for 4 to 6 weeks. In severe cases, especially where there are persistent skin fungal infections, an oral antifungal may be necessary. If a skin rash is present, a corticosteroid cream may be necessary to reduce inflammation and ease itching.

It is important to discontinue any perfumed product that may be causing a skin rash. An antifungal powder may be useful in reducing sweat build up in the area while ensuring that the skin fungus does not reestablish itself in the affected area. Wear clothing that is loose and thin to allow for adequate ventilation to the area. While a fungal infection is an itchy skin condition, avoid scratching as far as possible. Microabrasions caused by scratching will allow the fungal infection to persist.

Darkening of the skin under the arms is often a cause for concern particularly in women due to cosmetic factors. The dark discoloration of the armpits occurs as a result of long term skin inflammation in addition to friction and irritation caused by scratching. Avoid using skin bleaching creams in order to lighten the skin as this may cause further inflammation. A mild corticosteroid will reduce inflammation and itching thereby allowing the affected area to heal.


References

  1. Dermatophyte Infections. American Academy of Family Physicians
  2. Tinea corporis of the axilla. DermAtlas
  3. Cutaneous Candidiasis. Mycology Online
  • Alice Mwaura

    Hey, i take this opportunity to thank you for the useful information you have given out. I have had this problem (Armpit Itching) for the last 2years have being treated thrice and all in vain, now i have booked an appointment to see a dermatologist and on what i have read i now have confidence i will be healed, Thanking you

  • angel

    so is it okay then to put athlete’s foot creme or corticosteroid creme on your armpits?
    what products can be bought over the counter to cure this problem?

  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Angel

    Remember that the skin of the armpits are thin and delicate. Don’t use too much of a corticoteroid cream. A light application may be sufficient to bring down the itching and any swelling. But this does not get rid of the fungus. Speak to your doctor about an appropriate antifungal cream. Often the infection arise secondary to a fungal infection elsewhere on the body (example : you scratch your feet which has a fungal infection and then you scratch your armpits). So both sites need to be treated as you may be doing this unconsciously. Also bear in mind that a fungal infection usually sets in once the skin is damaged from some other cause – example : you may have contact dermatitis from the use of antiperspirant or deodorant under your arms. This has to also be attended to and prevented.

  • saurabh

    I have a red , itchy skin skin under my armpits . it subsides at night when there is no clothing. it reoccurs in morning when i starting sweating to heat of summers . pls help .is it a disease or so?

  • Anand

    Hello, I had armpit fungal infection as a brown patch and was treated with lamisil cream for 2 months. After treatment, the patch has disappeared, but I have started severe itching in another part of the same armpit with brown skin patch. Is it because the fungal infection has spread to other part of the same armpit or is it a new infection? Should I continue on the same lamisil for this as well? Thanks,

  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Saurabh

    It could be a fungal infection but it could also be related to a heat rash (miliaria). Or it could just be an irritation from perspiration and any other creams/sprays you are applying to the area. A dermatologist would have to take a look and advise you accordingly.

    Readers please note that it is not necessary to submit more than one comment/question. This is a free service and may only be answered AFTER 72 hours.

  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Anand

    It would be impossible to say whether it is due to the spread of the original infection, a new infection or some other skin disorder without seeing the lesion. You should see a dermatologist. We cannot advise you to continue or discontinue any medication.

    It is possible that you are suffering with a dermatitis which may be unrelated to the fungal infection. Remember that most skin fungal infections arise on on area of damaged skin or where there is a preexisting skin disease. On the other hand, skin fungal infections do not resolve quickly especially in areas like the armpits. You need to speak to a dermatologist.

  • Jay

    Great Article.

    My armpits just started itching and it looks like i also have fungus based on the syptoms you describe. I bought some Clotrimazole 1% and will put it on morning and night as instructed. Do you think its ok to use Gold Bond baby powder during the day as well to help reduce sweating? Do you think im on the right track with solving my issue?

    Thanks!

  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Jay

    Many fungal infections of the skin can be quite persistent and may even require oral antifungals. Avoid irritants like powder or even deodorant for a period of time. Often fungal infections of the skin arise secondary to skin diseases or irritation in the area caused by other factors like powder. A dermatologist will advise you further.

  • topsy

    Hello. I get skin rash when I spray perfume on my skin. Resently I sprayed a free sample of perfume on my clothes but still got a rash when I wore them. Now it’s not itchy rash anymore, instead I have these red, very painful bumps which have slight pus on my underams. I stil use antiperspirant because I sweat a lot and it can be smelly. Do you think I need to see a doctor or is there something I can get over the counter.

  • ringo

    hi,

    1.I got an infection from buckle of belt in the abdomen region. What should I do?
    2.I have a red , itchy skin in the places where I sweat,specially in the arm pits, under the neck. How will I get
    rid of this.

    Please Help.

  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Topsy

    Rather see a doctor just in case the follicles are infected. What you are describing is contact dermatitis and even if you spray a perfume on your clothes, it can still irritate the skin when the clothing makes contact with it. Switch to hypo-allergenic deodorants.

  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Ringo

    If it is an infection, then you need to see a doctor and get the appropriate treatment. Any infectious condition should not be left untreated. A bacterial infection can quickly spread and possibly even become life threatening. A fungal infection may cause severe damage to the skin and scarring.

    Redness and itchiness of the skin exposed to excessive amounts of perspiration is not an uncommon condition. You should have this checked up but a simple means of alleviating it if it is not related to some other serious condition/infection is to lubricate these areas with very small amounts of an emollient like petroleum jelly in the evenings after bathing. Nevertheless have this skin condition checked up by a doctor as well as it could be some other form of rash, which may need a more specific treatment.

  • naim

    Hi. Thank you for the very informative article.
    I am diagnosed with eczema and recently, about a month ago, my underarms start to get itchy and now the skin are peeling. I used the same deodorant for a year but this problem has just occurred. I’m wondering whether my eczema plays a factor in this or I have to switch deodorant. For your information, I use the cream for my eczema to apply it to my underarms. Thank you.

  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Naim

    Eczema is more likely to affect the folds of the skin and if you have a history of eczema, your skin in general is more sensitive. The deodorant could be exacerbating the problem although it may not be causing it. On a separate note however, you could be experiencing a contact dermatitis related to the deodorant which is unrelated to the eczema. You should see a dermatologist who can assess your skin. As a precaution, it is best to stop the deodorant for a while at least until you see the dermatologist. Even though you have been using the deodorant for this time period without any problem, it can suddenly start irritating the skin.

  • jemish

    I noticed black ill defined round discolouration of my armpit with little itch 1 month ago.I applied cream of ketocanazole+beclomethasone on it.It was suppressed for sometime.I stopped cream application.After 25 days of stopping ,it became larger than previous& more itchy also.wat should i do now?