Armpit hair, also known as axillary hair, starts growing during puberty due to hormonal changes in our bodies. It is one of the first signs of developmental maturity. For girls, puberty commences at the age of 9-14. For boys, however, it hits between the ages of 11-15.
Our developing bodies go through drastic changes during puberty and it is quite natural to be curious.
The pituitary gland in our brain, responsible for growth, reproductive development, and metabolism, releases hormones which in turn, fuel the release of androgens from reproductive organs (ovaries and testicles). These sex hormones contribute to the growth of armpit hair.
These sex hormones are responsible for the growth, thickening, and darkening of all of our initially thin body hair. Body hair grows in stages. Pubic hair is of the same type as armpit hair and happens during the same timeframe. Just like armpit hair, pubic hair has its own protective function. It acts as a barrier to reduce friction in the pubic area, especially during sex.
The armpit regions also house a special kind of sweat gland, theapocrine sweat glands, along with hair follicles. Pre-puberty, underarm hair is soft, thin, and fuzzy (this type of fine hair is also referred to as peach fuzz). This phase of underarm hair is known as vellus hair. Children have even finer hair called baby hair.
Puberty triggers the rapid development of these hairs as well as the functioning of these apocrine sweat glands. This leads to the emergence of thick, dark, and coarse hair, known as terminal hair, and increased sweat. Facial hair (for men) and pubic hair (for both men and women) are also a result of terminal hair growth.
1. Armpit Hair helps Reduce Friction
There are bodily functions of armpit hair, according to researchers and scientists. Along with this, evolutionary reasons support the existence of armpit hair too – we have retained hair on a lot of our body parts, similar to our primate ancestors, the hairy apes.
The nature of armpit hair causes it to create pockets of air between the strands. This prevents direct skin-to-skin contact and instead, allows room for less abrasion. It reduces friction between the folds of skin in our armpits, similar to pubic hair.
This reduced friction is better for our skin and prevents rashes caused by repetitive rubbing.
1.1 How Does Underarm Hair Assist in Pheromone Production?
A pheromone is a naturally produced chemical secreted by our bodies with the purpose of social intermingling and triggering sexual arousal and attraction from others. Our olfactory system is responsible for detecting pheromones through the body odor of men or women. This means that a potent odor or smell can help with the task of finding a potential mate, or in other words, a romantic partner. Other animals also use pheromones and detect odors for the same reasons.
Keeping armpit hair gives us a natural opportunity. The hair follicles keep in the odor and the pheromone-infused sweat brought out by the apocrine sweat glands.
In 2018, a study titled Olfactory Cues from romantic partners and strangers influence women’s Responses to Stress issued in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that a majority of couples responded positively to smelling their partner’s natural scent. The smell of a partner’s sweat had stress-relieving benefits for the women in the study. Thus, the smell of pheromones from sweat glands had a direct linkage to sexual attraction and influence on human behavior. Olfactory cues from the sweat glands were influential.
The sweat from sweat glands also helps regulate body temperature. It assists with heat loss.
1.2 How Does it Help Prevent Certain Skin Conditions?
Hair removal methods expose skin to friction resulting in several conditions such as folliculitis, ingrown hairs, underarm pimples, skin irritation, and acne, due to the moist environment. Underarm shaving also falls in the same range.
Thus, choosing to not shave or remove can be particularly beneficial if the individual has sensitive skin. Shaving armpit hair can also lead to razor burns which may be uncomfortable and painful to a certain extent. It may lead to further complications too, such as ingrown hairs getting infected which can be unhealthy for our body.
2. Removal of Armpit Hair and Benefits
Now that we know why we have armpit hair, we can talk about the pros and cons of removal. Due to the nature of hair thickness, weather conditions, and sweat capacity of their body, many people prefer to get rid of their armpit hair for convenience’s sake. Our armpits are parts of our body that can itch. We can remove hair through various procedures such as shaving with a razor, trimming, scissors, waxing, laser hair removal, or with chemical hair removal creams. of these, people generally prefer waxing or shaving.
2.1. Smooth Underarms
Many people might prefer smooth underarms and armpits, for health conditions or other reasons. Shaving armpits not only allows this but also helps prevent itchiness and discomfort.
2.2 Less Sweating
Removing armpit hair can help with sweating less. This is especially useful in hot and humid climates. The lack of hair reduces sweat retention and therefore, moisture dries up faster. Hyperhidrosis refers to a condition wherein most men and women tend to sweat excessively. For such issues, it is worthwhile to have armpits cleared.
2.3 Controlling Body Odor
The excessive moisture and lack of aeration in our armpits make it a testing ground for bacterial growth. Bacteria break down sweat and skin particles, adding to the body’s odor. This can be unpleasant and hard to deal with, especially in social circumstances. Shaving armpit hair helps reduce body odor by a significant amount. Apart from this, we can also use deodorant to control odor.
3. Why Do Some People Naturally Lack Armpit Hair?
While a majority of us grow armpit hair effortlessly during puberty, some people can struggle with this. They may barely develop any, or have none at all. This is usually a result of genetic factors or medical conditions which contribute to it.
Conditions and diseases such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, different forms of asthma, and anomalies in the pituitary and thyroid glands usually contribute to this. Laser armpit hair removal ensures that hair does not grow back for half a year, at the least.
Growing armpit hair is a completely natural body function that comes with the onset of puberty. While it does contribute to pheromone diffusion and helps keep our skin less irritated (through preventing razor burns, reducing friction, et cetera), it is important to note that it may be highly uncomfortable to keep it. It causes itchiness, discomfort, and irritation during hot weather conditions.
Alongside this, the malodor from sweat can also make one feel revulsed. The armpit area is an active site for bacteria and gives off an unpleasant odor. Therefore, it can impact our social life and interpersonal relationships. People may opt for armpit hair removal solely for aesthetic purposes as well and some people prefer a clean shave for their armpit area. Generally, women prefer this more.
In the end, there is nothing that makes it unnatural. Armpit hair is a part of our body hair, albeit sometimes impractical to keep around. Removal of armpit hair is purely a matter of personal choice. Waxing is generally preferred as it is efficient for these hairs.
Leaving armpit hair intact is also an individual choice. What we should remember is to keep safe and choose hygienic methods for the same.