Women's History Month: The Hidden History of Antiperspirant
Chances are you didn’t wake up this morning with a nagging curiosity about how deodorant was invented, but hear us out. The story of deodorant, contrary to what you might think, is a wild ride. It’s fascinating, infuriating, and filled with some kinda shady characters who turned a normal biological process into a source of shame, frustration, and embarrassment for millions of women almost overnight. So how did we all end up here, furiously searching for ways to stay dry at all costs? Let’s take a look.
For a long time, humans walked around basically unbothered by sweat and BO. Perspiration was considered a normal, healthy bodily function, so stigma towards sweat didn’t really exist. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that anyone made a true attempt at selling what resembles modern-day deodorant. The first deodorant that tried to go mainstream in the US was called Odorono (as in “Odor? Oh no!”) and it was an instant failure. Why? Well, the product itself wasn’t great; it caused significant irritation and burns, it smelled like acid, and it also stained everything red. A real winner. The only other rival to Odorono was a deodorant called Mum, a thick cream that claimed to stop sweat by “clinging to your skin”. It was also a failure, because, shockingly, people didn’t love wearing a greasy, thick cream on their armpits during the middle of summer.
Needless to say, the deodorant brands of the early 1900s required some serious marketing help if they wanted to survive. Because it was acceptable at the time for men to sweat, they faced one primary obstacle: they needed to find a way to get women to buy into the concept of deodorant. So what did they do? They went straight into the marketing-to-women playbook and adopted shame and fear-mongering as their newest tactics. Take, for example, these ads from Mum and Odorono:
While obviously offensive and insulting, this marketing tactic sadly seemed to work. It successfully convinced many millions of women that sweating was a personal defect, a failure that would have significant social consequences if not resolved. The subtext of these ads was not only that being sweaty made a woman undesirable, but that sweatiness was a legitimate medical concern that would haunt you if you didn’t stop it in its tracks.
This damaging myth, that sweat was a dangerous social embarrassment as opposed to a basic biological necessity, gained traction quickly, and over the decades, the deodorant industry ballooned into what is today an $18 billion industry. By convincing people everywhere that sweat was the ultimate villain, deodorant brands could get away with using sketchy ingredients and harsh formulas that did more harm than good.
The reality is that even today, many deodorant brands are still living in the past, invoking shame and embarrassment as the reasons that you should buy their products. Thankfully, though, people have begun to question their deodorant choices and demand more. Curie was started for precisely this reason, because we know that deodorant is only effective if it’s working with your body instead of treating your body as some problem to be solved. We think there’s an important opportunity to rewrite the relationship that people have with their deodorant, and we’re happy to do it while leaving the weird, sexist ads behind.
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