Retinol For Dark Underarms: How to Use, Benefits & Effects

Retinol For Dark Underarms: How to Use, Benefits & Effects
Retinol For Dark Underarms: How to Use, Benefits & Effects

Retinol is a form of Vitamin A that is converted to retinoic acid on the cellular level of your skin.

It has amazing benefits for your skin such as reducing hyperpigmentation and promoting smoother and healthier skin.

Can You Use Retinol to Lighten Dark Armpits

Yes, you can. Retinol, once used properly, has the ability to treat hyperpigmentation on your underarms.

However, dermatologists suggest that you be very careful when using retinol under there. 

Retinol can be either beneficial or damaging based on:

  • The condition of your skin
  • The cause of your underarm darkness
  • The sensitivity of your skin

For more serious cases of dark underarms consider:

DIY & Medical Ways to Quickly Whiten Underarms Permanently

Tretinoin for Dark Underarms: How to Use Safely & Benefits

Hydroquinone For Dark Underarms – How to Use & Side Effects

Benefits of Retinol For Underarms

The skin of your underarms, like elsewhere, will see tremendous benefits if retinol is used correctly and consistently.


  • Accelerates skin cell turnover which effectively improves discoloration and darkness
  • Inhibits the overproduction of melanin on a cellular level, which also reduces darkness
  • Increases collagen production which strengthens and smoothens the skin
  • Reducing collagen breakdown
  • Hydrates the skin
  • And even reduces acne (if you happen to get underarm acne)

Related Articles –

Using Rose Water to Lighten Dark Armpits & For Body Odor

Witch Hazel for Underarms: Benefits, How to Use & Effects

Best Essential Oils for Armpits & How to Use Correctly

Tip On How To Use Retinol For Dark Underarms

1- Consult a Dermatologist

Consult a dermatologist for advice on the right concentration and form of retinol you should use. This will vary individually.

If your dermatologist prescribes clinical-grade retinoids for your underarms, use them as specifically directed.

Related Article – Baking Soda & Lemon for Underarms: How to DIY & Benefits

2- Don’t Use Retinol When Pregnant

Do not use retinoids or retinol products if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Related Article – Aloe Vera for Underarms: Benefits & How to Use Effectively

Now for some great deodorants that can actually help to lighten dark armpits check out:

5 Best Deodorants to Lighten Dark Underarms- Prevent & Treat

Dove Even Tone Deodorant Review- Does It Work & Is It Safe

3- Start With the Least Strong Retinoid

If you have super sensitive underarms, most dermatologists recommend that you start with the least potent form of retinoids. 

This means that you will most likely begin with a retinol ester, which can be purchased over the counter. 

Do not attempt to use the potent forms of retinoids or strong concentrations of retinol on your own. These products, when used incorrectly, can damage your skin.

DIY Apple Cider Vinegar for Cleaner & Lighter Armpits

4- Gradually Increase the Strength

As your skin gets used to the retinoid ester, you may be able to move on to retinol itself after a while.

If you can start retinol directly on your underarms, start with the low concentrations. Then, gradually work your way up to the stronger ones.

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5- Don’t Use it Too Often

To avoid damaging your skin, use it sparingly. For example, your dermatologist might recommend that you begin using it once a day, 1-2 times per week until your skin gets used to it. 

Then gradually increase the frequency until you can use it every day.

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6- Patch Test

Always do a patch test first to see how your skin will react before applying the product all over the area. 

7- Moisturize

You may help to combat dryness or irritation by applying some moisturizer. Or, you can use retinol products that have moisturizing and hydrating ingredients. 

You may use a retinol product that also has niacinamide (vitamin B3), vitamin C, and/or licorice extract. They even out skin tone and reduce signs of inflammation too.

Dry Armpits: How to Correctly Moisturize & What to Use

8- Only use At Night

Remember that Retinol should only be used at night. Sun exposure will break down the retinol and make it unstable and useless. 

Even though your underarms are not generally very exposed to the sun, you should apply some sunscreen. Better to be safe rather than sorry!

Why The Form/Concentration Of Retinol Matters For Underarms

Using retinol too frequently or using one that is too strong for your underarm can irreversibly damage the skin there. 

It is widely known that the skin under our arms is more sensitive and thinner than regular skin. 

Since the skin of the underarms is thin and folds onto itself, absorption will be greater than if you applied the same product to your face or elsewhere on your body. 

In cases where people have thickened skin along with the darkness (acanthosis nigricans), dermatologists usually turn to prescription-strength retinoids. 

However, OTC Retinol overuse or the use of a retinol product that is too potent for you might cause irritation. This will lead to even more darkness. 

Turmeric for Dark Underarms – Benefits & Easy DIY Scrubs

How Soon Can You Expect Results

Manage your expectations. Retinol products take weeks to months to show visible results.

With over-the-counter retinol, it can take up to 6 months to see results. Prescription retinoid creams may take as long as 3 months.

All of this, of course, depends on:

  • The severity of the darkness under your arms
  • The strength and form of retinol being used
  • Your skin’s reaction

Some people may see results faster than others.

For a faster way to lighten your underarms, consider using lasers: click here to read about laser whitening for underarms.

Side Effects of Using Retinol for Underarms

If retinol is used too often, or if the concentration is too strong for your skin, you may experience:

  • Dryness
  • Redness
  • Irritation

If you continue to overuse retinol or use one that is too strong, these side effects will develop into irreversible skin damage. 

This is especially more possible since the skin of your underarms is more sensitive than regular skin. 

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Recommended OTC Retinol Products For Dark Underarms

All retinol products can treat hyperpigmentation (skin darkness). The key is to choose the right ones for your skin, especially when it is sensitive areas like your underarms. 

Here are a few of my favorite retinol products:

1- L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Night Serum

This serum contains 0.3% pure retinol as recommended by dermatologists. This is great for newbies.

To help counteract some of the drying effects, the brand also incorporated glycerin and hyaluronic acid into the formula.

Click here to check out the price of the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Serum on Amazon.

2- Sunday Riley High-Dose Anti-ageing Retinol Serum

If you’re already accustomed to using retinol, this 5% retinoid ester blend can more aggressively target unwanted darkness.

It contains 1% of an encapsulated retinol blend and 0.5% blue-green algae. It also has ingredients like CoQ10, bisabolol extract, shea butter, hyaluronic acid, and Hawaiian white honey to calm your skin.

You can click here to check out the Sunday Riley Retinol Serum on Amazon.

3- La Roche-Posay Pure Retinol Face Serum

This serum combines niacinamide with a form of pure, gradual-release retinol that helps to make it more tolerable for sensitive skin.

To prevent dryness, moisturizing favorites like glycerin and hyaluronic acid have been included.

Click here to view the La Roche-Posay Pure Retinol Face Serum on Amazon. 

4- Paula’s Choice Retinol Treatment Cream

This cream falls somewhere between a concentrated retinol serum and a richer moisturizer.

It has ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and shea butter for moisture. And, most importantly, it has a combination of 1% retinol, licorice extract, and vitamin C.

Click here to check out the Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Treatment Cream on Amazon.

When Can You Use Retinol For Dark Underarms

Retinol can be a bit harsh, especially in high concentrations, so it’s recommended that you consult your dermatologist in special cases.

But generally, retinol can be used to treat dark underarms caused by:

  • Acanthosis Nigricans –  This is darkened, visibly thickened skin. It is associated with diabetes, hormonal syndromes, obesity, genetics, medications, cancers, and other chronic illnesses.
  • Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation – This usually occurs after a rash or other form of inflammation affects the skin for a while.
  • Aggressive shaving – Shaving without using a good razor or a shaving cream will cause your underarms to develop razor bumps and abrasions. This darkens the skin.
  • Sensitivity to products – Some products contain harsh or toxic ingredients that constantly irritate the skin and can darken the area.
  • Friction  – constant rubbing together of the skin causes it to chaff and darken.

Alternatives to Retinol For Dark Underarms

While Retinol is a great treatment option for dark underarms, it might not be the best option for everyone. 

If you cannot use retinol, here are a few other ingredients you can consider:


Products with hydroquinone are also available in OTC concentration and prescription concentrations.

You should consult a dermatologist before using this treatment. 

Related Article – Hydroquinone For Dark Underarms – How to Use & Side Effects


This is the natural (plant-based) derivative of hydroquinone.

In melanocytes (pigment-producing cells), arbutin competitively inhibits tyrosinase activity.

It works slower and is also available in various concentrations to be used dependently.

Kojic Acid

This reduces darkness by inhibiting the production of free tyrosinase (enzyme for pigment production).

However, this ingredient can be drying. Look for products that have added ingredients to moisturize the skin. 

Related Article – Kojic Acid for Dark Underarms- How to Use Correctly & Risks


This is the most known plant-derived retinol substitute.

Similar to retinol, it increases the formation of collagen, evens out skin tones and decreases darkness.

It also lowers inflammation and improves the look of fine wrinkles.

Niacinamide (Vitamin B3)

When applied topically, this vitamin helps hydrate skin and treat darkened areas.

It promotes skin elasticity, decreases redness and acts as an antioxidant. 

Niacinamide for Dark Underarms: How to Use for Best Results

Vitamin C

This vitamin inhibits melanin (pigment) synthesis by downregulating the activity of the enzyme, tyrosinase.

It’s widely used in dermatology for lightening dark spots.

It also comes in concentrations and needs to be used correctly to effectively treat rather than irritate the skin. 

Vitamin C For Underarms – Everything You Need To Know

AHAs, or Alpha Hydroxy Acids

These are other great options; examples include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and citric acid.

They help to exfoliate dead skin cells on the surface of your skin to promote an even, smooth, complexion.

Keep in mind that these are active ingredients that also come in specific concentrations.  

Glycolic Acid for Underarms – How to Use, Benefits & Risks

Salicylic Acid For Dark Underarms: What You Need to Know

Licorice Extract

This improves hyperpigmentation by dispersing the melanin and inhibiting melanin production.

Related Article

Glycolic Acid for Underarms – How to Use, Benefits & Risks

How Often to Exfoliate or Scrub Underarms for Best Results

Dry Armpits: How to Correctly Moisturize & What to Use

How to Use Retinol to Lighten Dark Knees & Elbows

Using Retinol for Dark Inner Thighs – What to Know


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