today I am back to talk a little about history. Who likes to hear that? Often time people tell me that history sucks and there is no use in it. To a certain degree we live today and what lies a hundred years behind might not be appealing to hear. However, there are interesting facts about many things that we do not even think about today.
So, I am going to talk a little about the history of deodorant and antiperspirant. Why is that relevant?
150 years ago people did not use deodorant at all. They did not use anything to keep those terrible armpit odors away. In fact, they even did not wash their clothes after wearing them for a long time. I have often wondered how such a thing is at all possible. I feel uncomfortable wearing my shirts for more than a day, especially because I sweat excessively in my armpits.
That is why the history of deodorant and antiperspirant is relevant for me. I like to share a bit how they did it back then and how they managed with armpit odors because they did not have antiperspirants to stop them from sweating nor did they have deodorants to help them smell better.
But before I go more into the history of deodorant and antiperspirant, I will tell you a little about what deodorants and antiperspirants are.
What Are Deodorants?
Although few people don’t sweat at all, most people sweat on a daily basis, some a lot and others less. Sweat is a watery liquid that is produced in our sweat glands. Various triggers make these sweat glands to work and produce sweat, mainly to regulate our body temperature.
Sweat from our apocrine glands, which are located in different areas of our body, including our armpits, rarely smells bad, but bacteria that live in these regions thrive on sweat. The breakdown of sweat caused by these bacteria causes the bad odors.
Deodorants are used to control the bacteria living in warm regions (where they multiply at an incredible rate) to stop bad odors.
Contrary to the belief of many people, deodorants to not stop sweating; they only reduce bacteria to avoid sweat breakdown, which smells bad. If you can control the bacteria effectively, you can sweat a lot and still not sweat.
What are Antiperspirants?
Many people have overactive sweat glands that produce excessive sweat, which these individuals cannot control. People suffering from this condition have what is called hyperhidrosis. There are 2 types of hyperhidrosis and each one of these types can have different causes.
People that sweat a lot have a harder time to find the correct deodorant because they cannot catch up with the rate of multiplication of bacteria. Whatever deodorant they put on, it will have an effect for only a few hours and they will smell bad again.
So, often people that sweat a lot opt for an antiperspirant, that usually contains aluminum chloride, to reduce the sweating, so deodorants will have an effect. That again helps them to have pleasantly smelling armpits.
Therefore, antiperspirants affect the sweat glands directly by blocking them and preventing a person from sweating.
You might like: Difference between Deodorants and Antiperspirants
Life In My Community 50 Years Ago
I grew up in a place where people lived without electricity and cars until the 1970s. My grandparents were even shunned by the local church because they were too progressive when they bought their first car.
It took many years of hard work on behalf of community members to progress.
What does that have to do with deodorants? Maybe a lot. Let me show you.
My parents grew up when all radical changes in the community took place and modernization started to kick in. My parents often tell stories about the way they grew up and it is hard to believe that one generation can make such a big change.
Let me record a few of things that I believe are relevant to the history of deodorant and antiperspirant.
How Could People Live With Armpit Odor?
Back in the early 1970’s, people were poor and the wardrobe was extremely small, things were often handed down from older siblings to younger ones, and sometimes even generations down the line.
Church clothes were worn exclusively for church and they were never washed. Baths were taken only once a week, where the whole family shared the same water (unbelievable for me).
In all this, people did not use deodorant. My parents often tell me that back then nobody was offended by the extreme odors people would spread.
Can you imagine a whole week without bathing? The interesting thing though is that they worked physically hard out in the sun. Life was similar to life in a small frontier town. Everybody owned a little piece of land, a few cows, pigs, horses, and chickens, and of course, a small garden. By the weekend, people would not be fresh anymore and definitely needed a bath. Because water was not readily available like we have it today, people were more careful with it.
Growing up in families with 10+ children was not an easy task and cost an awful lot of money, which most of the times was not available. That explains why the wardrobe was scanty and would not be washed. That would keep it new for much longer.
I often wonder if people did not feel dirty after working without being able to take a bath. They must have been used to it, or maybe (just maybe…) nowadays we live too high expectations.
Nevertheless, body odor can become offensive when not tended to in time, but probably they did not notice.
Ancient Deodorant History
If we look to the Greek, Egyptians, Romans and other ancient cultures we find that they already had a notion of masking body odor.
Perfumed baths were very common, for those who could afford. The perfume was also used in armpits, which would help reduce the odors from sweating.
Also, different concoctions from oils were made by these cultures to help with body odor (not only pits). However, most of the perfumes and concoctions that were made did their job partially.
The problem was that most of these did not address the bacteria living in the armpits so it would not be effective for body odor. Perfumes would help more with covering the odor by smelling fresh.
However, we can imagine that it was not effective, except if baths were taken daily (which is not very likely).
After the church took control over everything, people were taught that being naked was really bad, so they even stopped taking baths at all. The last resource of smelling as pleasantly as possible was taken from them.
Life A Few Hundred Years Ago
If we go back in wardrobe history, we will find that people wore thick layers of clothing, especially people from the high society.
If you look at what a noblewoman was dressing for a ball in the 1700s, you will be amazed at how many layers of clothing she had to put on before she was ready. When you think the dress is now complete, there are more layers to follow.
Also, for middle-class men, they did not just wear simple underwear, a pair of jeans and a shirt and done. There was so much to put on before one was ready.
The interesting thing is that they wore many layers of clothes as a nightgown, also for work, and for social activities. There was always so much to put on.
Don’t you think that that was part of the trick to mask bad smells? That also explains, why most of the wardrobe was never washed. It would simply not get dirty, sweaty, or smelly after wearing because there were simply too many layers of clothes.
People back then were aware of the bad odors from the armpits could be nasty. Would you go dancing with a partner that was not fresh? Therefore, they had to find ways to deal with these odors, and they did so by using lots of clothes.
When Were Deodorants Born?
Although there is not much to be found about deodorants that were used before conventional deodorants came to life, I firmly believe that some families must have tried through natural approaches to stop sweat from smelling.
In fact, since there are natural ways to reduce sweating and also natural ways to eliminate bacteria in armpits, methods could have been used long before conventional deodorants came to life.
My grandma used milk as a gel to comb her daughters. That was an easily available resource to fix everyday problems. Too bad she is not here anymore to tell me what she did with body odor.
Back in the late 1880s, in the USA, the first deodorant was developed by Edna Murphy and patented later on. It seems that no other deodorants were patented and invented after this first one for nearly half a century.
However, it was years after WWII that Helen Diserens made the first ball-point deodorants, which was a newly invented technology back then. However, it was still the same deodorant that was invented by Mrs. Murphy.
Deodorants were initially made for women only, and only in the early 1950s, they were also made for men.
From there, it only took a few years before deodorants were a multi-million industry and over 50% of the adult population was using deodorants.
And today, not many cultures can be found that don’t know about deodorants. It is common sense today to use deodorants.
When were Antiperspirants born?
Jules Montenier patented the first antiperspirant in 1941, but it had been formulated since 1903.
Aluminum chloride was used at first, but since it is highly acidic, many people were not able to use it because it caused skin irritation.
Mr. Montenier was able to neutralize the product by using soluble nitrile, which made it more accessible to people.
Nevertheless, in the early 1960s tests were performed on animals. Science and medicine wanted to determine if there were side effects of antiperspirants.
Studies showed that cancer, dementia and other diseases could be traced back to the use of aluminum chloride.
When the light was shed on these facts, antiperspirants became more and more rejected, regardless of the positive effect they had on people that suffered from hyperhidrosis.
Today, around 95% of Americans use deodorants, from home-made to organic, to natural, to conventional, to dab-on, roll-on deodorants. The whole deodorant and antiperspirant business has become an $18 billion dollar industry.
Are Deodorants and Antiperspirants Really Unsafe?
As said, throughout history, researchers have done their best to determine whether aluminum chloride (used in antiperspirants) and parabens (commonly used in deodorants) are detrimental to health.
Do you remember the emails that you received back in the early 2000s that told you to stop using any of these products because you could get cancer and other life-threatening diseases? I do recall those, but I never stopped using deodorants, because I did not know what else to do.
Smell bad all day long? Or continue to use deodorants? It was like a necessary evil, as we use to say.
However, recently, light has been shed on new research that has not found enough evidence to prove the theory spread back in the 60s.
It is believed that either zinc, parabens, aluminum chloride, and others cause as much harm as was once thought. Our skin was designed to protect our body from outside harm. Our skin does everything possible to not let harmful things in. Therefore, research believes that very little of the ingredients found in deodorants and antiperspirants actually comes into our body.
More harm is done to our body by what we smell, eat and drink.
As said before, the history of deodorants and antiperspirants is not only important but also interesting to read about.
It is interesting to see how people have dealt with body odor over time and how it has evolved into something so effective that we have today and is readily available whenever we want and need it.
Thank you so much for stopping by and I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share with family and friends by clicking the social media buttons below.
Also, I would love to hear your comments and questions. Any thoughts about the history of deodorants and antiperspirants are appreciated.
As always, I am happy to help,