Dark Secrets: Solving the Problem of Dark Underarms, Elbows, and Knees

Text by Edma Remillano

Being a woman of color – as opposed to mestizas and Caucasians – has a lot of benefits, skin-wise. Because of the melanin or dark pigment that is present in our skin, we will look younger than our white counterparts for years to come. We get wrinkles a lot later and our skin is quite resistant to freckling.

Unfortunately, this is also the same reason behind dark elbows, knees, armpits, and groin—the bane to an otherwise flawless and even-toned complexion. In fact, this is a common problem for Filipinas. It can also be rather embarrassing, making women self-conscious and think twice about wearing dresses and short-sleeved tops.

Why do I have these dark patches?

According to dermatologist, genetologist, and cosmetic surgeon Dr. Grace Carole Beltran, there are a number of possible causes for dark knees, elbows, armpits, and groin.

 It’s in your genes. If this is the case, the dark spots are there to stay. Yes, you can use medications to make them fade. But once you stop taking the meds, the dark patches will come back.

Acanthosis Nigricans (AN) is another possible explanation for the dark areas. This is a pretty common skin pigmentation disorder.  Dark patches of skin with a thick and velvety texture appear in the aforementioned problem parts, including in the skin folds.

AN can be brought about by various medical conditions like obesity and hormonal disorders. It can even be a sign of an underlying health problem such as diabetes and cancer.

In this case, the dark patches will go away once the root condition is addressed—like losing weight if the AN is brought about by obesity.

Lastly, hypersensitivity reaction or allergies may result in dark patches. The same is true for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This occurs when a wound or allergy heals and becomes dark spots.

How do I get rid of them?

In as much as there are numerous causes for dark patches, there are also a myriad of ways to get rid of them. For starters, there is a wide array of bleaching and peeling creams to choose readily available in the market.

But as Dr. Beltran said, “it’s a matter of finding out which cream is the most effective.”

Consult your dermatologist! Although this is already a cliché, that does not make it any less true. Your dermatologist is your best bud, gal pal when it comes to skin care. S/he will guide you in choosing the best treatment for your case. So make sure you pay him/her a visit before trying any medication.

Be aware of product formulations. Bleaching and peeling treatments are formulated to fit specific body parts. This is why creams for the knees cannot be used for the armpits—the formulation used for the former is a lot stronger and may cause damage to the latter. The armpit and groin are actually the most difficult parts to treat since they are sensitive.

In the same manner, darker patches will require stronger formulations. However, this should also be balanced out so as not to burn the skin or cause irritation.

Using the wrong treatment may result in an adverse permanent reaction. Some examples of which are black and white spots, atrophy, stretch marks, and scars. Dr. Beltran even had cases where the affected area turns blue.

So instead of a solution, you end up with another problem.

It is only the dermatologist who knows the best ingredients available.
– Dr. Beltran

Don’t be too eager. The dermatologist will also guide you on the proper application and usage of the medication.

Oftentimes, the skin gets damaged because some users are too eager in achieving the results they want.

Hear this: no, putting more bleaching cream will not make the process go faster. It may even cause irritation.

Be wary of promises that are too good to be true. Whiter skin in just 3 (or 5, 7, 14) days! Does this sound familiar? While advertisements as such can really get you hooked, Dr. Beltran warns her patients to be way of them. Sometimes, there are just promises that are too good to be true.

The speed by which the results can start to manifest is dependent on the cream you are using. For stronger creams, results can be visible in a month.

Given that, users ought to remember that skin whitening takes time and patience. Just keep using the creams as directed to yield the best results.

Consider in-house treatments. Although there are those who sell branded skin whiteners, dermatologists often make their own formulations. This way, they can come up with a treatment that works best for the specific needs of their patients.

These treatments can be administered in two ways: (1) a patient can bring home the creams and use them as directed by the dermatologist, or (2) the treatment can be done in the clinic via multiple sessions where the dermatologist will be the one to do the procedure.

Are there natural alternatives to whitening creams?

Homemade remedies are also a favorite especially among DIY ladies. Here are some of the most commonly used treatment for dark elbows, underarms, and armpits.


Before taking a bath, rub a slice of lemon in the dark area. Leave for 20-30 minutes. Do this daily and apply moisturizer to soften the skin.

Coconut oil

Rub a small amount of coconut oil to the affected area every day.

Baking soda

Mix baking soda with a little water. Apply on the dark area regularly.

Olive oil

Warm some olive oil. Apply it to your knees and elbows and let it stay for 10 minutes. Do this daily until you achieve your desired results.

Aloe Vera gel

Get fresh Aloe Vera leaves. Break out the fleshy ones to get the gel. Apply this to the dark spots and leave for half an hour.

A word of caution though. While it is true that some of these homemade treatments have worked for others—perhaps including some of your friends and family members—the same may not necessarily be true for your case. In fact, Dr. Beltran does not recommend the use of home remedies since, according to her, there are no studies conducted to primary attest to their efficacy.

It is still best to consult your doctor to avoid further damage to the skin.

The Expert Knows!

To wrap it up, here are some tips from Dr. Beltran to help you get rid of those dark secrets and keep your skin healthy.

  • Avoid getting your knees and elbows in contact with surfaces too much if you want them to be fairer.
  • Scrubbing your knees, elbows, armpits or groin too much will not make them whiter. In fact, it works otherwise. The skin will get darker and thicker because that is part of its natural protection.
  • Apply the right types and formulation of skin whiteners under the supervision of a dermatologist
  • Be wise in choosing the skin clinics you go to. Go to those owned and operated by certified skin experts. Some patients have learned this the hard way and ended up with permanent skin damage.



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