I May Be the First Person in History With This Particular Injury

Siamese chili.

Siamese chili.

“Humor plays close to the big hot fire that is truth.” E.B. White

An island of mottled redness rises from my skin, burning like hell’s fire. The constellation of hair follicles swells painfully with each beat of my heart. I run cool water over linty washcloths and apply them to the affected area—or areas, I suppose is more accurate. Left and right, to be exact. Say, have you ever met anyone who chemically burned her armpits with fresh chili pepper oils?

Let me back up. You see, this would never have happened if I had a normal boyfriend—one who had no problem using fluoride-based toothpaste, non-organic vegetables, and easy-application corporate deodorant. No, Jon Miller insists on the superiority of his hippie solution, one which is so pure and aluminum-free—aluminum being the worrisome culprit in your traditional Old Spice, Lady Speed Stick, or Axe (if that’s your thing)—that you could eat the stuff. The thing is that I never saw anything wrong with aluminum-based deodorant, and chances are, you probably haven’t either.

Let’s just say that when you type “aluminum deodorant” into Google for the first time, it autofills with the following: “aluminum deodorant breast cancer,” “aluminum deodorant alzheimers,” and finally on down to what used to be my greatest concern about the white paste for your pits: “aluminum deodorant stains.”

Call me uninformed, but this was all news to me. I’d had similar revelations with Jon’s frequent polemics against BPA-laden store receipts and hormone-altering soy products. So his homemade deodorant was no surprise to me.

Here’s the recipe:

  • A good-sized dab of coconut oil
  • A sprinkle of baking soda
  • A few drops of tea tree oil
  • Some cornstarch

You heat up the mixture and pour it into some sort of receptacle. In lieu of a traditional deodorant dispenser, Jon uses a sharp-edged plastic jar—which (fun fact) historically held my boyfriend’s supplemental bee pollen—and it’s just small enough to scrape the back of your hand as you reach down into it. Currently there’s a low level of the product, so Jon wields the handle of his tongue-scraper to retrieve enough to apply to his armpits.

Last week, I ran out of my deodorant and decided to give it a try. Why not, right? The teatree oil smells fantastic and who cares if I need to apply the stuff with my fingers? I used the dull end of my tweezers and scraped some of the mucilaginous mixture from the razor-edged jar. Without thinking twice, I smeared it into my armpits.

I went outside to catch some sun and finish translating a poem in Spanish by Neruda (“Bacarole,” if you’re interested)—a morning routine I’ve taken up since moving to Argentina.

A slight tingle began to rise from the skin under my arms and I figured it was the usual culprit: razor irritation. Oh, the joys of being a woman. But this sensation continued to intensify, moving from tingle to singe to Sear to SCORCH and into a full-blown CONFLAGRATION under my arms which yanked me violently from my reading. I examined the skin which was just beginning to flush light pink, belying the intensity of the perceived scalding.

“Baby, does your hippie deodorant sometimes burn your armpits?” I inquired, the muscles in my eyes starting to strain from looking under my arm for too long.

“No, why?”

Then it hit me. I have a near pathological addiction to spicy food. I often eat meals as the Vietnamese do, taking bites of fresh chili peppers along with soups, stir-fries, stews, etc. I even muddle chili peppers in a tall glass with a blunt pestle and pour my beer on top of it. It is delicious. I also make my own hot sauce with fried garlic, lime juice, ginger, salt, and plenty of the skinny Thai-style peppers (or whatever’s available, wherever I happen to be living). Tabasco, Chulula, Frank’s, those artisan sauces from the Ferry Building in San Francisco—even my former mistress, Sriracha—really don’t do it for me anymore. I crave spice with everything.

That morning, I’d chopped up a slew of fresh Thai peppers. They’re my favorite and I used a lot of them, rinsing off my hands perfunctorily with a little water before finishing my morning routine, which included… applying deodorant with my fingers.

The resultant welts—chemically burned into my skin and further irritated with baking soda, cornstarch, tea tree oil, and coconut oil, the latter of which counterintuitively does not soothe, but serves to trap the heat—were indescribably painful, making me have a new respect for people who tattoo this very delicate area.

Whatever else I go on to accomplish in this world—whether it be authoring a Nobel Prize-winning novel which unites the world; whether it be discovering a global source of renewable energy; whether it be leading a grateful parade of kittens and puppies from a burning animal shelter and finding loving homes for them all—I may be the only person in the world who has chemically burned her armpits with fresh chili oil, and that’s something.

NOTE: If this has happened to you, the author would prefer not to hear about it. Please respect her wishes and keep her current, sole claim-to-fame in tact. She is much obliged.

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