How one gets a severe sunburn in their armpits, I will never truly know. But I do know, and found out the hard way, that it’s not smart to follow up a burn with hair removal.
Initially I suspected that I had irritation under my arms due to a new deodorant I started using. It began with severe itching then progressed to burning. My armpit hair was growing in ferociously, and because of the irritation I hesitated to remove it. I finally got sick of looking at the TWA growing under my arms and attempted to use a depilatory cream to take it off. I figured a cream is better than a razor right? Wrong. Oh so wrong. The burning and the pain that ensued was unbearable.
It turned out that I had a bad sunburn under my arms, not a negative reaction to new products. Perhaps I’d laid in the sun with my arms overhead on one of those pool or beach visits. I don’t remember doing that, but it didn’t matter.
The burn was like no other, and the discoloration and eventual peeling further confirmed what it was. I reached for a tried-and-true burn remedy in the cheap no brand aloe I keep in the bathroom at all times. The pain grew more intense. Water couldn’t even soothe it. Hot water made it sting, cold water made it worse.
When I took a look in the mirror my underarms were red and appeared to have long welts, as if someone had whipped me and it caused the skin to break. So I reached for the one product that I knew my mother would have put on any scrape, cut, bruise, or burn when I was a kid—my trusted Vaseline petroleum jelly. The pain began to calm immediately. I slathered that Vaseline under my arms like it was honey butter on a warm biscuit. The vaseline created a barrier for my skin and in less than 48 hours my armpits had healed significantly.
This was such a lesson for me in so many ways. I learned that it’s possible to get underarm sunburn, so I will now take extra precaution in some forgotten (yet highly sensitive) areas before going into the sun. I also learned that if instinct says not to do something seemingly dangerous in the name of vanity and hair removal, listen to it. And I further confirmed something that Black women have known for decades and across generations—Vaseline petroleum jelly fixes pretty much everything.
I’m not going to trade in my overnight serum or my daily SPF moisturizer for petroleum jelly, I’m too much of a beauty junkie for that. But I’m lucky and happy that I keep some on hand because I had it when it was the only thing I needed.