A Brief History of Deodorant
Perspiration and body odor are part of the human condition. But our desire to manage and quelch the two are a more recent evolution—or are they? How and when did deodorant and antiperspirant first come on the scene? Let’s dive into the fascinating history and how we got to where we are today.
Body odor and AmericansHygiene and discomfort around body odor are somewhat cultural. In the United States, it’s practically a social crime to have “BO” or to visibly perspire. This is propagated through marketing, ads, social media, movies, and television. Moreover, an aversion to discussing bodily functions is deeply embedded in our social fabric. It’s no wonder some of the first deodorants and consumer-brand antiperspirants were developed in this country.
For millennia, far before commercial deodorant and antiperspirant products were invented, perfume and natural scenting agents, like essential oils, were used to mask odor1. In more recent history, absorbent fabric was used under the arms to wick sweat before it could soak through to clothes. Talcum powder, and later baking soda, were common precursors to modern-day deodorant.
The first deodorants & antiperspirantsIt wasn’t until 1888 that the first commercial deodorant arrived. A company called Mum launched a deodorizing cream featuring zinc oxide as the odor busing active ingredient in a metal tin. The product was marketed to women. While the concept was innovative, adoption of the deodorant was slow.
In 1903, Everdry became the first antiperspirant to enter the market2. It featured aluminum salts as the active sweat-stopping ingredient. It worked by clogging pores to prevent sweating.
Early marketing of deodorant & antiperspirantAn early attempt at marketing antiperspirant came from a teenage girl named Edna Murphey with Odorono, made from a sweat-stopping product her father invented to keep surgeons’ hands dry. Her efforts launched the advent of perspiration as a social faux pas through aggressive marketing campaigns.
One ad from 1920 features the headline: “The most humiliating moment in my life when I overheard the cause of my unpopularity among men”. For decades since, Americans have had a growing obsession with eliminating body odor and signs of sweat.
Deodorant & antiperspirant become commonplaceDespite clever marketing, Odorono and products like it often caused irritation to the skin and fabric staining due to the acidity in their aluminum chloride formula. It wasn’t until the early 1940s when reformulation by chemist Jules Montenier fixed the acidity issue.
Montenier’s product was called Stopette and came in a novel plastic bottle3. The invention spurred greater demand for plastic packaging. Stopette was also sold in a deodorant spray.
Deodorant continued to gain popularity, eventually appealing on a mass scale to men, thanks in part (again) to targeted marketing. By the 1950s, it’s estimated that 50% of men were users4.
The modern era of deodorant & antiperspirantIn the 1960s, aerosol antiperspirants entered the marketplace with Gillette’s Right Guard. The no-contact application was revolutionary and further increased antiperspirant’s popularity, though the model was wrought with safety and environmental concerns. In 1977, the FDA banned aluminum zirconium, the active ingredient in aerosols, over safety concerns. Soon after, the EPA raised concern over the use of CFC propellants used in aerosols, which contribute to depleting the ozone layer. Subsequently, stick antiperspirants in a plastic tube took over as the preferred packaging method.
As modern industry and manufacturing evolve, the deodorant industry continues to blossom. While a handful of behemoths have occupied store shelves for decades, a growing awareness around the impact of everyday products on the environment and our health has spurred a new wave of more ethical and environmentally conscious products.
The movement toward conscious personal careDeodorant made with naturally-derived ingredients has been crafted in kitchens and apothecaries around the world for ages. The recent commercialization of so-called natural deodorant has led to wider appeal and availability. It’s not just at farmer’s markets and natural grocers, but at mainstream grocery and department stores.
What is natural deodorant?Deodorant is generally considered natural if it doesn’t contain synthetic or artificial ingredients. Common ingredients are coconut oil, baking soda, arrowroot powder, corn starch, magnesium hydroxide, kaolin clay, and aloe vera. Because deodorant doesn’t contain antiperspirant, it doesn’t prevent sweating. Instead, moisture-wicking and antimicrobial ingredients manage sweat and bacteria that can lead to body odor.
An evolution in deodorant packagingA growing number of consumers and manufacturers are looking for packaging solutions that align with the desire for more eco-friendly ingredients. There are a number of alternatives to virgin plastic now available:
- Post-consumer recycled resin (PCR plastic) gives a second life to plastic that’s already in circulation.
- Paperboard is a biodegradable paper-based material Reusable packaging that can be refilled by the consumer is offered by some companies.
- Bioplastics, which are derived from biological sources like cassava, corn, or sugarcane instead of petroleum, are entering the market.
As long as the demand is there, the industry will continue to make progress in the directions that prove most fruitful.
What’s next is in part up to the consumer. Demand has the power to drive industry change. At Humble Brands, we value our customers and their perspectives. Our deodorant is aluminum free and effective with a simple set of plant and mineral based ingredients. We know it can be overwhelming when choosing personal care products. That’s why we prioritize conscientious ingredient selection and sourcing. How our products make people feel and how our manufacturing affects our community and planet are always top of mind.
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