History of Deodorant

The history of deodorant goes back centuries. As long as people have been sweating and stinking, people have been searching for ways to limit the impact of their odors. Once you've read this history of deodorant products, you'll consider yourself lucky to live in this age of advanced odor-control.

Before Commercial Deodorant
Before commercial deodorant was available, people spent centuries creating ways to mask the smell of their body odors. Among some of the approaches were:

  • Heavy scents. The Egyptians created a blend of citrus and cinnamon that resisted the tendency of many scents to turn rancid; this was used as an early deodorant. Incense, carob and other perfumes were used as well.
  • Removal of underarm hair. Some people realized that the removal of underarm hair cut down on the unpleasant body odor, so this practice became commonplace in certain sects of society throughout the world. The reason the removal of underarm hair works is because the hair provides more surface for the bacteria that produces body odor to grow; this bacteria grows best in warm, wet places, so the underarm area is a perfect breeding ground for smelly bacteria. People learned that removing the underarm hair, washing often, and applying a heavy scent helped deal with the body odor problem.
  • Salt preparations. In some parts of Asia, the application of rock salt became a popular deodorant. The salt kills off the bacteria under the arms, working much like modern day deodorants. You'd still sweat, but at least it didn't smell so bad. You can still buy rock salt deodorants online.

Commercial Deodorants
When commercial antiperspirant made its debut onto the market in 1888, the deodorant world began to change forever.

In 1888 the first commercial antiperspirant was developed and sold. It was called Mum and was a zinc chloride and wax paste you applied to your underarms. It was sticky, tacky and messy, but it helped to kill bacteria, which meant less odor.

In the 1890s, a variety of antiperspirants made with aluminum chloride were developed. Aluminum chloride prevented odor by reducing sweating. By 1900, a host of antiperspirants in a variety of forms were on the market as sticks, powders, dabbers, pastes, creams and roll-ons.

In the 1950s, aerosol antiperspirants and deodorants containing aluminum zirconium and chlorofluorocarbon propellants appeared on the market. These products became so popular that they accounted for over 80 percent of antiperspirant sales by the 1970s. However, in 1977 the US government banned the use of aluminum zirconium because they worried about the effect of this agent when inhaled, and the Environmental Protection Agency restricted the use of chlorofluorocarbon propellants. Aerosol antiperspirants went from popular to almost non-existent even though the companies producing them quickly found alternatives to the banned ingredients.

In the late 1970s, stick deodorants and antiperspirants gained popularity. While roll-ons, aerosol, dabbers and powders are still available, stick preparations have remained the most popular. Most stick deodorants contain aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum chloride, aluminum sulfate or aluminum zirconium. One of these compounds is mixed with a waxy substance to create a stick that will both inhibit sweating and kill bacteria.

Today, pleasant scents are often added to the mixture to create a lovely aroma as you apply the substance to your freshly cleaned underarms. The end result? You end up smelling like a rose.

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