Why Do We Use Deodorant?

Our cave-dwelling ancestors didn’t wake up, shower and apply deodorant before heading out on the morning hunt. So why do we use deodorant now?

Hold onto your bobble hats! We’re going to take you on a whistle-stop tour of underarm hygiene through the ages. I know, I know we’re too generous, but haven’t you ever wondered how something as normal as body odour became such a problem? 

The first thing to remember, is that our scent started off with a purpose. 

Sweat cools the body…and also releases pheromones. Pheromones have been proven to signal many interesting and important things such as social status, what food is nearby and time of menstruation.

So before we turn our noses up at body odour completely, let’s just take a moment to appreciate how incredible our bodies are. Now…to the Pyramids!

5000 B.D (before deo)

As civilised society grew, we developed other ways to understand status, food availability and fertility.

People living in Ancient Egypt around 5000 years ago focused on covering body odour with things like cinnamon, lily, rose, lemongrass or myrrh.

Ring a Ring ‘o’ Roses

As you know, progress is rarely linear…and this is certainly true for body odour control during the Middle Ages! 

In the West, the Church managed to convince people that being naked was bad, bathing frequently meant you were vain, and people used to carry around bunches of sweet-smelling flowers to cover up the stench of death emanating from every street corner.

Vive La France! Smelling Fashionably Fabulous

Finally heading in a sweeter smelling direction once more, the French aristocracy went all out on perfume in the 17th and 18th centuries. Unfortunately, people still smelled pretty bad because hygiene was misunderstood. There is only so much you can cover with cologne!

Routine Hygiene at Last?

Then, cholera happened. Massive outbreaks of the disease in the 19th Century combined with a better understanding of germs forced European cities to get a handle on sanitation. Access to fresh water was improved, rubbish collections became more organised and effective sewer systems were built.

However, this was bad news for the perfume industry. People didn’t smell as bad, so strong perfumes weren’t as necessary and sales plummeted. The answer? A pivot was needed!

Now, the global deodorant and antiperspirant industry is worth $23.2bn, so what changed?

Modern-day Formulas

The first modern-day deodorant with its very own trademark was zinc-based Mum, developed in 1888 in Philadelphia and it was the OG cream formula. 

But, by the time we hit the 20th century, some people were playing around with the idea of an sweat inhibitor, but not for underarms. At this point in time, people accepted underarm sweat as a normal and natural bodily function.

Antiperspirant. A tough start.

In 1910 a high-school student from Cincinnati, called Edna Murphey, set up shop trying to sell her own brand of antiperspirant. Called Odorono, it was a formula her surgeon father used to keep his hands sweat-free while he was performing operations. Edna tried the liquid on her armpits and discovered that it stopped her sweating and smelling. 

Unfortunately, Cincinnati wasn’t ready for Edna’s discovery. She tried for 2 years to market her product, but people were sceptical of antiperspirants. As far as the average person was concerned, they were at best unnecessary, and at worst, unhealthy.

It wasn’t until the particularly hot June of 1912 that sales of Odorono rocketed at an Atlantic City exposition, where the company had a stall. Edna sensed there was a potential market after the expo but she needed some help with marketing. Everdry took ages to dry (not kidding), was messy to apply and tended to stain or burn clothes. 

How were they going to sell a product that irritated armpits and stained clothes, in the face of a public who generally thought stopping sweat was unhealthy?

By turning sweat from a normal function, to an embarrassing problem. 

Social Anxiety

Everdrys newspaper advertising strategy focused on convincing women that perspiration was an embarrassing problem that they needed to solve. But because people didn’t like talking about bodily functions back then, they ran newspaper adverts that told women that sweat was the reason they weren’t popular. 

Women were told that sweating was the social faux pas that no one would tell you about to your face, but that everyone was talking about behind your back and the reason you didn’t get a second date.

Odorono Advert from August 1920

The thing is, that marketing campaign worked! Sales of the antiperspirant rose by 112 % in the following year. I’m so grateful that marketing doesn’t look like this today.

By playing on the female psyche, Everdry went from an unnecessary product, to one women felt they needed in order to be socially acceptable. 

Modern Day. A Better Way.

Today, you can choose between antiperspirant or deodorant without the fear of being a social outcast. Antiperspirant continues to generate bad press, and we’re seeing more and more people choosing deodorant formulas which allow the body to regulate perspiration naturally. If you’ve been around the blog for a bit then you’ll have read about how sweat is a natural process. It’s even beneficial for our skin’s microbiome. So we’re not a fan of antiperspirants.

But we are fans of making sure women feel confident in their skin. Our formulas were developed to last all day and give you the confidence you deserve in a completely natural, aluminium free formula. It’s one less thing to worry about when you’re living your life. 

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