Compared to other parts of the body, armpits have a pretty bad reputation. Common problems that most women encounter include body odour, darker pigmentation, irritation and rash. Nevertheless, there are ways to avoid embarrassing moments when wearing sleeveless or revealing shirts.
"Underarms have sweat and apocrine glands, where sweat clings to hair follicles. These glands secrete a watery sweat directly onto the skin, especially in response to heat and emotion. And this is broken down by bacteria, creating an unpleasant smell," says Dr Nantapat Supapannachart of Apex Profound Beauty and author of the best-selling book "Khon Rak Na" ("Love Face").
"Although underarm skin is very thin, being part of the arm fold, there's a lot of skin in the area and it's more prone to irritation than other parts of our bodies. However, the more we do to fix the problems - frequent shaving and using deodorant - the more likely we are to get allergic reactions and darker skin on the underarms."
There are two methods of hair removal, permanent and non-permanent. The usual remedies are plucking, shaving, waxing or using depilatories, all simple, easy and cheap. But Asian women in particular often darken underarm skin by shaving off underarm hair, since their hair is black or brown. Because the hair is not pulled out from the roots, it is often visible below the skin even after shaving.
Waxing removes hair from the roots but problems arise when the hair breaks above the root, or when hair has not grown out substantially so cannot be waxed out. After a successful waxing though, armpits are completely free of hair for a few days, maybe even a week. But then the hair starts growing back and it takes some time before it's long enough to be waxed again.
"The disadvantage of shaving is that new hair grows quickly, is tougher and can curl up inside the skin. Waxing can lead to irritation if done clumsily, so it should be done by a professional," says Nantapat.
However, for permanent solutions, the technology has advanced from electrolysis to laser hair removal. Electrolysis involves an electric current passing through a needle to destroy the follicle's ability to grow. It is effective but slow and painful, and comes with the possibility of scarring and infection.
Laser hair removal, on the other hand, is very popular. There are many types, each one utilising a beam of highly concentrated light and taking no longer than five minutes per underarm. The system is specially designed to remove unwanted hair faster, less painfully and in a way that is more reliable than electrolysis.
The pigment located in hair follicles absorbs the light emitted by the laser. Laser pulses vaporise the pigment, disabling several follicles at a time to eliminate or impede the hair's regrowth. "A laser causes each strand of hair to fall out and actually works best on dark hair. It's one of the best remedies so far and there are no reports of side effects, which is especially important since there's so much concern about skin cancer these days," says Nantapat.
General recommendations for underarm treatment include stopping the use of deodorant if your skin has redness, scrubbing gently but not too often, and avoiding whitening agents that claim to make underarms lighter in colour. Finally, wear loose-fitting clothing to keep the air circulating and focus on cleanliness to inhibit odour-producing bacteria.