It might be hard to think of a time before deodorant. It’s particularly popular in the US, where 95% of the population uses it. It’s as much a part of daily routines as brushing your teeth. However, deodorants and antiperspirants weren’t always such a staple in American medicine cabinets. In fact, it’s only been popular for the past century. Today, the deodorant market is growing as fast as ever. The once-deemed unnecessary product is now the basis for a multi-billion dollar global industry that shows no signs of stopping.
Dating back to ancient Egypt and Greece, the world’s wealthy would douse themselves in everything from fragrant wax to perfumes in order to cover the smell that occurs when sweat meets the bacteria on the skin. However, the first effective deodorant as we know it was developed at the end of the 19th century. Since then we’ve come a long way, using ingredients that don’t resemble those of their predecessors at all. But before we take a look at where deodorant is today, let’s take a look back at its earlier iterations.
Deodorant was introduced in the late 1800s. The first deodorant that killed odor-causing bacteria was called Mum and it was trademarked in 1888. It was a waxy cream that came in a metal tin and used zinc oxide to fight odor. Back then, deodorant was a fairly novel idea, as most women simply used perfume to smell fresh. A version of this first formula was later developed into the first roll-on deodorant in the 1950s, and a modern version of it is still available for sale today—albeit mostly outside the US.
Antiperspirant followed in the late 1900s. The very first product of its kind was called Everdry, which launched in 1903. A few years later in 1909, Dr. Abraham D. Murphey, a physician who lived in Cincinnati, developed a liquid antiperspirant to keep his hands dry during surgery. His daughter, Edna, used the invention under her arms and found it eliminated sweat and odor and later decided to market it to women as a way to ditch hot and uncomfortable sweat pads used in dresses at the time to absorb excess sweat on warm days. After a few years of no success, she finally debuted an antiperspirant called Odorono (as in Odor, oh no!), which became extremely popular and was the basis for the aluminum-based deodorants we know today. In 1914, the Journal of American Medical Association called it “fraudulent and dangerous,” stating that the aluminum chloride inside could irritate skin.
Deodorant marketing expands in the early 20th century. In the decades that followed the debut of Odorono, the power behind Murphey’s success was her marketing approach. She hired a now-famed copywriter named James Webb Young who wrote advertisements in publications like Ladies’ Home Journal positioning underarm sweat as an embarrassing problem for women. “Several women...said they would never speak to me again—that it was ‘disgusting’ and ‘an insult to women,’” said Young. “But the deodorant’s sales increased 112 percent that year.” Many deodorant brands soon followed suit and all began to heavily market anti-sweat and anti-odor products to women as a necessity, not a luxury.
- Introduction of aluminum-free deodorant. For centuries, different cultures have used natural remedies to solve body odor issues. Asian cultures have used mineral salts to fight odor-causing bacteria. But the kind of aluminum-free deodorant and deodorants using cleaner ingredients like we know today were introduced in the 1970s. They picked up popularity in the ’90s, but have risen to new heights from 2010 onward. In a recent report, 9% of people in the US currently specifically use a clean, aluminum-free deodorant—versus a regular deodorant or antiperspirant—and 46% of U.S. adults said it’s at least somewhat important to buy a personal care product that’s free from chemical ingredients. Today, you’ll find nearly as many aluminum-free deodorant options available as you will traditional ones.
What Is Deodorant Used For?
Today, deodorant’s use and its benefits are much bigger in scope. Most Americans apply it to their underarms on a daily basis to tame odor caused by sweat and bacteria, but some use formulas with only clean ingredients to curb excess sweat. And they’re catching on, especially with young people. One survey showed 74% of people aged 18 to 24 use aluminum-free deodorant (not antiperspirant), compared to just 50% of people over 55. If current trends hold, the market for aluminum-free deodorant will continue to rise roughly 14% over a 6-year period ending in 2025.
What Are the Benefits of Using Deodorant?
Today, the benefits of deodorant are many: decreased odor and increased sweat protection, plus a variety of scented and unscented options. When using an aluminum-free deodorant, you have the de facto assurance that you’re not putting a reactive metal on your skin. But when you’re out buying your next deodorant, look for a brand that’s radically transparent about its ingredients. Beyond being aluminum-free, make sure they're using clean ingredients throughout their formula. Even if they're leaving out aluminum, some brands still use drying alcohols and harsh preservatives that have higher likelihoods of causing negative skin reactions.
Look at not only what’s inside your deodorant, but where it comes from and if there are any studies about its safety. It’s the smartest way to get the most out of your deodorant, knowing you’re making a smart, healthy choice for your body that’s still as strong and effective as traditional formulas. If you haven’t found the perfect deodorant, try something from our line of aluminum-free deodorants, including an unscented option with prebiotics.
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