This Article Stinks

Find out where deo for your B.O. originated from

By Tom Huddleston Jr.

camel wrestling

Though it hasn’t always been the case, personal hygiene plays an undeniably important role in our society — just ask the guy who smelled your hair while you slept on the bus last week. The charmingly disheveled look may get some people laid, but there still isn’t much of a market for fashionable body odor — aka Reek Chic.

While bathing was once reserved for special occasions in some cultures, today it is not uncommon for a person to take two, or even three, showers in one day — especially if a Jock Jams-inspired gym session is on the docket. And no post-shower ritual is complete without a date with everyone’s favorite stick, spray, or weirdly wet rollerball of smells.

Deodorant is society’s favorite way to pretend that our armpits don’t smell and our sweat glands don’t sweat. Whether you want to avoid showing off your shirt’s pit pools on a first date, or you’re trying to enflame your friend’s Mountain Fresh allergy, your friendly neighborhood deodorant will be there.

Even though bathing was not always such a frequent practice, people have always looked for ways to make the smells they emit less gag-worthy. As far back as ancient Egypt, cultures have combined heavy, pleasant scents — like cinnamon, citrus, and anything else that masks the smell of camel dung and papyrus smoke — into perfumes that could be applied to their most offending crevices.

But despite such a long history of enterprising smell reduction, it wasn’t until 1888 that the first commercial deodorant hit the market. Mum was patented in Philadelphia and sold as a cream that could be applied by hand. The product was eventually bought by Bristol-Myers and, in the late-1940’s, an employee of that company named Helen Barnett Diserens combined that product with the mechanics of the recently invented ball-point pen — thus creating the first roll-on deodorant while also taking Diserens’ longtime rivals at the ball-point pen factory down a notch.

Ban Roll-On was released in the U.S. in 1952, but a decade earlier Jules Montenier patented the modern formula for antiperspirant, which would eventually combine with deodorants in an effort to make the average person both dry and pleasant-smelling.

Unfortunately, the antiperspirant factor in deodorant is the one that comes under the most fire today as its formula usually calls for a decent dosage of aluminum. You don’t have to be Mendeleev to know that aluminum is the thirteenth, and thus coolest, element on the periodic table. But, while it may give us recyclable soda cans and campfire-baked potatoes, excessive exposure to it has also been linked to both Alzheimer’s Disease and allergies that cause dermatitis — not to mention that you’ll no longer be able to put yourself in the microwave.

Of course, it is up to you to decide whether or not avoiding such downsides is worth the pit stains on your favorite ironic-slogan t-shirt. One alternative is to opt for all-natural crystal deodorant products, but unless you ride a longboard to “work” and more than 50% of your wardrobe is hemp, then that option might not be for you.

Besides, assuming we can trust AXE commercials, any guy who eschews a little olfactory helper under the arms will miss out on his obligatory, daily molestation by an insanely hot passerby/girlfriend’s mom/Meter Maid. After all, anything less would be uncivilized.

Illustration by Amelia Bienstock