When Did We Start Using Deodorant?

Between the Industrial Revolution and the Internet revolution, a profound upheaval took place. The deodorant revolution. Main effect? We smell our body odor much faster than we used to.

Press your nose against your naked biceps. What do you smell? Probably nothing. Aromatic molecules do float into your nose, but your brain has learned to ignore them. Your smell contains no new information and is therefore filtered away as useless noise. Just as farmers no longer smell anything from the manure smell hanging over their pastures, perfume store salespeople no longer notice that typical cloud of perfume. Olfactive fatigue is called that. And that was once our greatest ally.

Now, because of better hygiene, we stink more

For centuries, masses of odor molecules must have been floating around everywhere in homes and beyond, coming from unwashed people. Reports from the 16th century tell of the surprise among Japanese and Indians (peoples who did wash regularly) at European settlers. How could these curious travelers build such superior ships yet also stink so horribly? Why didn't they take a dip in a nearby stream to wash off those repulsive body odors? 

Because in other words, they didn't smell their odors at all. But as the centuries progressed, Westerners also took their hygiene more and more seriously. In doing so, they encountered a problem that wealthy Egyptians and Romans had struggled with millennia earlier. Just when you wash regularly and thus rid yourself of a permanent stench, you notice that from your armpits new pungent sweat odors can rise quite quickly. 

In 1888, a good solution to this problem was finally found. The first real deodorant. Called Mum, a word that at the time meant the same as hush. Hush, in other words. Mum was a rather hard cream based on the substance zinc, which can absorb aromas.

Deodorant made itself indispensable

Yet it would take until after World War II for the deodorant revolution to take place. Thanks to the invention of the practical deodorizer and clever marketing campaigns about smelly girls who couldn't get a boyfriend. 

Soon deodorants became commonplace. Because the more people started using them, the more others were forced to go along. After all, their sweat odors began to look more out of place. And so it came to pass that by 2022, we have become so hypersensitive to the disgustingness of our body odors that we actually can't live without deodorant.