If you paid attention in your tenth standard biology classes, you would know that darkening of the underarms and the pubic region is a byproduct of puberty. The number of melanocytes (melanin-producing cells which cluster around hair follicles) increases as our armpit and pubic hairs make an appearance in our teens, signalling our transition into adulthood.
However, in our quest for “flawlessness” we are trying to fight this naturally-occurring process with whitening products, both for the vagina and the underarms. It’s high time we came clean about our secret use of “whitening” deodorants and obsessive lemon-rubbing on the armpits. What are we doing? Why are we trying to whiten our underarms?
This is very much a race issue because women of colour experience more pigmentation
Due to our skin having more melanin, we as women of colour are more likely to get darker underarms than pale-skinned white women. This is a natural thing our body does and not a sign of something being wrong with our body. So why are we so hell bent on trying to “fix” something that is not an issue?
The answer is simple. We have been programmed to emulate the white/Caucasian beauty standard. Even if we own our skin colour, we haven’t owned everything else that comes with it. We are still trying to correct the difference in the skin colour of our chest, face, hands, and underarms because a white person’s skin tone--the ideal in our society--is naturally even throughout their body. Ours naturally isn’t because that’s just the way melanin works, whether you’re black or brown. The need to have “even” skin is very much part of the larger attempt to be more like Caucasian people.
We need to address the fact that this category of whitening products only caters to women
Underarm lightening products are doubly problematic, not just because of the colourism problem they signify but also because it is a sexist campaign aimed only at women. Given that the darkening of body parts is something women experience on their way to adulthood, the attempt to undo it is a part of the larger societal crusade to simultaneously infantilise and sexualise women, and make us look child-like and “clean”.
Let’s also talk about why underarms get dark
Apart from puberty, underarms get dark due to friction, which can cause hyper-pigmentation, especially post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation. Interestingly, it is the pressure to look hairless which causes this because waxing is a common reason behind this sort of hyper-pigmentation.
We shouldn’t use such products not only because there’s no end to the whitening madness, but also because they’re actually harmful
For a second, let’s assume that there’s no politics behind this skin-lightening quest. Let’s talk about the actual efficacy of these products, or rather the seeming efficacy which hides ill side-effects.
The cleverly-named Dot & Key Underarm “Colour Correction” and Detox Mask, for example, contains essential oils--notorious for being skin irritants--like tea tree and peppermint oils.
A popular daily-use product, the Nivea Whitening “Sensitive Gentle” Deodorant contains aluminium, the exposure to which causes Alzheimer’s among other things. Yet, we buy it in the hope that it will whiten our armpits.
The Qraa Dark Underarm Whitening Cream also contains essential oils like lemon, lavender, and tea tree. In addition to that, these products contain skin-lightening agents which make the skin sensitive, especially to sun exposure.
In the case of the popular and apparently “relatively safe” Dot & Key mask, it contains Vitamin C and niacinamide, which are great for treating blemished skin but come with the caveat of being chemicals sensitive skin isn’t great at tolerating. If that wasn’t enough, this mask also contains charcoal--a KNOWN carcinogenic.
So, to scrub armpit skin and rub irritants onto the region to “detoxify” a body part which is perfectly fine is counter-productive. This is especially true for the underarms because the lymph nodes in the area are sensitive to lumps and cysts if exposed to harmful products. That’s even more reason to avoid using whitening deodorants in the region.
At the end of the day, the existence of such products is proof of the social maladies which create a demand for them. There’s really no other justification for their presence in our beauty kits. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, and worsen the situation in the process?