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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.