This product category is one of the oldest in modern cosmetics. It emerged mainly due to the development of hygienism in the late 19th century. Let’s take a look back at the history of a modern product: deodorants.
Before, lets make a small trip in the déodorant world before and now !
In 1800, after one of his victories, Napoleon Bonaparte wrote to first wife Joséphine: “Don’t wash, I’m running to you, I’ll be here in eight days”. Then, in the 1960s, the famous band The Who sang: “Her deodorant let her down, she should have used Odorono” – the name of a renowned brand.
Historically, and in many cultures, the body odour played a key role in various fields. Back when we lived in caves, we were less concerned with body odours, at least as a seduction parameter. In prehistory, body odours helped make the difference between friends and enemies. Indeed, these smells were often behavioural or societal warning signals. For example, in Micronesia, to seduce their beloved, Nauru people drink a substance to perfume their sweat. In China, the art of incense was a way to perfume skin by fumigation. As for Latin people, they called the underarm odour hircismus, because to them, it smelt like the foul odour exhaled by goats. And decadent Romans, who were much refined, used perfumes and other fragrant products a lot.
The 18th century was marked with a hygienic renewal, as Nature was valued. People developed intolerance to smells considered unhealthy. The fact that some odours were questioned resulted in a redefinition of body hygiene, but also of the relationship between individuals and the city. The élites introduced the notion of deodorization in relation to the city, but also to people’s bodies, and starting from 1750, lighter outfits were preferred, with more subtle and delicate smells. So, with the emergence of hygienists and new practices came the idea of removing or modifying body odours. People started to perfume their grooming items, gloves, handkerchiefs, etc. Powder rooms became the temple of seduction par excellence. History is marked by countless similar practices.
The history of deodorants is much associated with the processes responsible for the formation of body odours.
Among these processes, sweat was soon considered as a determining factor, so the attention was drawn on two aspects:
• How to produce less sweat?
• How to prevent it from being transformed and generating bad smells? The action of the microorganisms in contact with sweat was soon considered a triggering factor.
Man has had a long history with body odours. For a very long time, it was common to perfume oneself, rather generously, to cover body odours. Of course, the sweating phenomenon was well-known, and certain disorders like hyperhidrosis had already been identified. The link with body odours was soon officially established, and the role of the transformation of sweat into fragrant substances was also known.
It seems people became aware they could regulate body odours by focusing on sweat in the late 19th century. As personal hygiene standards gained importance in the 20th century, an increasing number of people chose to use products to control their sweat, in particular on the underarms, as well as the smell it produced, rather than face the consequences.
However, for a long time, there was much confusion between deodorants and antiperspirants, as both were presented as having the same use. The first deodorants seem to have been marketed in the USA – the product the most frequently quoted is a cream. In 1888, American brand Mum developed the first antibacterial deodorant. Created by an unknown inventor from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Mum was a paste based on zinc oxide to be applied on the armpits. It was soon followed, in 1903, by Everdry, the first efficient antiperspirant. Everdry was a solution of aluminium chloride which was dabbed with a cotton bud to get the desired outcome. Everdry took forever to dry and had the bad habit of tingling users and “eating” through their clothes, staining them. Other products followed, including Mum (1888), Amolin (1893), Ever-Dry (1903), Hush (1908), Non-Spi (1910), and Odo-Ro-No (1914).
Significant progress was made when these products, in particular by Odorono, seduced the advertising industry, which started to create a need. Oriented slogans democratized products intended to control sweat, moisture effects, and body odour levels. The effects of excessive sweat were not viewed positively. For example, you could buy products made of leather to conceal excessive sweat in the armpit area. There was strong social pressure to treat personal hygiene as rigorously as possible. According to Diane Wendt, a custodian associated with the Division of Medicine and Sciences of the National Museum of American History, “advertising played a key role to convince people they needed products to be clean, healthy, and hygienic, from body odours to bad breath.”
Deodorants were affordable goods in the early 1900s. They were mainly sold as creams or powders. Under the pressure of ad campaigns, they got increasingly widely used. As soon as 1938, it was estimated that 60% of women and 20% of men in the US used a product to regulate armpit odours (deodorant) and/or sweat (antiperspirant). Some of these products were specifically formulated for men – they were introduced starting from 1935. In the middle of the 1950s, inspired by the ballpoint pen, the first roll-on (Ban) was released. Ten years later, the first aerosol triggered the emergence of an industry which soon weighed several billion dollars (1960).
In Europe, deodorants boomed later. There were a few specialties
Odorono was available in France for travelers
In France, they were not really available until the 1950s. And at first, they were mainly sold in pharmacies. Then, the category grew in a similar manner to the American market, especially since it mainly targeted mass distribution. On this segment, brands were often global groups which preferred general formulas for all markets. Aluminium salts and bactericides were the rule. The first products sold in France included a deodorant soap, Rexona, which was soon rivalled by the Dédoril soap. Ads also played a role with the famous, widely used slogan “À vue de nez, il est 17h !” (“Looks like it is 5pm!”).
Not very elegant, but rather evocative. The first products were followed by others: sprays, roll-on deodorants, etc. The first to be highlighted as an efficient antiperspirant was the Narta deodorant spray.
Functional ingredients : Many ingredients were described as having an effect on body odour levels.
However, aluminium salts gradually gained ground, and soon became a must-have ingredient in all categories. Meanwhile, substances acting on bacterial proliferation were also developed. Later, the products introduced as being able to counter fats oxidation were also recognized as active substances.
The products intended for the body were divided into two types: those aimed to simply deodorize sweat, and those which contained enough astringents to temporarily reduce the perspiration flow. The difference between an antiperspirant and a deodorant was first made official in the US regulations in 1938, through the US Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FD&CA). In the US, antiperspirants were considered as quasi-drugs: they were in the category of OTCs. As a consequence, brands had to comply with the rules of the American authorities as regards the nature of the substances to be used and the dose. Click here to learn more about the regulations provisions in the US: they were often used as a reference.
In the 20th century, demand increased on the American market when deodorant manufacturers launched huge ad campaigns to convince American women – and later, men – that they had to do something to solve their armpit sweat issue.
Products with perfume have been used for centuries to mask body odor. Some of them, like the traditional Eau de Cologne, had some antiseptic value (bergamot, lavender) which counteract the activity of Corynebacteria, which are the main cause of underarm odor. Scented talcum powders were another popular deodorant. The perfume helped cover up odor, the talc by itself absorbed some of the underarm sweat, zinc or magnesium stearate helped the powder adhere, and there was a selection of other ingredients, such as boric acid and sodium perborate, which acted as deodorants. Bactericide agents have been added to improve the effectiveness of these preparations. This is how antibiotics were added. The astonishing success of penicillin in controlling infections during World War II generated massive post-war interest in antibiotics. The astringent, drying and deodorizing action is complemented by antiseptics, which prevent the fermentation of organic matter. In the 1950s, antibiotics found their way into a range of consumer products, including deodorants; the most used antibiotics being neomycin and tyrothricin. A few years later they had disappeared from formulations in favor of bactericides. Hexachlorophene, a halogenated phenol derivative produced by the Givaudan company, was first suggested as antiseptic in the 1930s, but it was incorporated into soap in 1948 that it gained started to receive wide attention from the cosmetics industry. Its use has been strongly questioned in Europe with the Mohrange talc affair. (70s). It was replaced by triclosan, which was developed by the Swiss company Ciba-Geigy in the 1960s and found its first use in the 1970s. Many cosmetic companies started using it when problems with hexachlorophene were became obvious. It has been used as an antibacterial in a wide variety of personal products, including soaps, shampoos, deodorants, toothpastes, and mouthwashes. Concerns about its long-term effects on health and the environment have seen its use decline in recent years.
Alongside this often-majority mode of action, another approach has also become popular. It addresses another way which bad odors are formed. In fact, many microorganisms are found on the skin surface. They are able to degrade the lipids originating either from desquamation or present in the sebum composition. In fact, human body odor linked to perspiration is explained by the activity of bacteria of the genus Corynebacterium which produce lipases capable of breaking down the long-chain, non-volatile lipids of sweat into smaller and odorous molecules (volatile acids fats) having a “butyric” component. The activity of Propionibacteria which produces propionic acid. This propionic acid being chemically close to acetic acid, it could explain the sour or vinegary character of certain body odors but also of the bacterium Staphylococcus epidermidis, source at the level of the feet of isovaleric acid of the bacterium Staphylococcus hominis produces thioalcohol which contributes to the smell of sweat in the armpits. This approach leads to the use of antioxidants rather than bactericides. This is how products based on 3% vitamin E have been proposed, but above all based on phenolic antioxidants of the BHT type, such as this active ingredient Hydagen DEO™
Also known as antisudoral or antisudorific, their mechanism of action was aimed to reduce sweat. Aluminium salts very soon gained ground as actives. Their mode of action is to reduce perspiration. Very quickly, aluminum salts established themselves as an active element. Alum, a natural astringent containing aluminum and potassium sulphates, has been used in the West as an antiperspirant since Greek and Roman times. Ever-Dry introduced in 1903 is generally considered as the first commercial antiperspirant, followed by Hush (1908). They both used aluminum chloride as active ingredient. What led Ever-Dry to use aluminum chloride is still a mystery, but it has been suggested that late 19th century actors and actresses experimented aluminum chloride to reduce sweating. Furthermore, aluminum chloride was widely used in the 19th century as an external disinfectant. Chloralum, for example – made with aluminum chloride – was a well-known disinfectant. In the long term, industry adopted aluminum chlorohydrate (ACH) on a large scale, first introduced in 1947. Initially controlled by patent (US2,492,085, 1949), invalidated in 1954. Zirconium salts were introduced in the 1950s. Early forms gave way to zirconium hydrochloride with modern formulations commonly using aluminum zirconium chlorohydrate (AZCH). This has a higher antiperspirant efficacy than aluminum chlorohydrate. Over the years, many theories have been offered to explain the action of antiperspirants, with one early opinion being that they act like astringents to reduce the pore size. The idea was already in the air of the time that causing a slight hyperkeratosis at the level of the sweat pore could modify the pores size by decreasing it and therefore reducing the level of excretion. The property sought was described as astringency. Metallic salts such as zinc or aluminum are regularly cited. The astringency of these salts is anion dependent. Sulfate, chloride, chlorohydroxide, or phenol sulfonate were most used, all at acidic pH to ensure efficacy. But irritating effects were often associated.
Aluminium salts questioned : When the use of aluminium salts was questioned, many products were reformulated.They were accused of increasing the risk of breast cancer, and they have been controversial over the past few years. However, the studies that pointed out their dangerousness present many biases and the causal link still has not been proven. The European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (CSSC) and other European regulators, like the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), are clear: the information available does not substantiate concerns on the carcinogenic potential of aluminium compounds, like aluminium salts. The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers that using aluminium chlorohydrate in antiperspirants is harmless – it is authorized at concentrations up to 25%. In most cases, these substances were substituted for magnesium salts with similar properties to aluminium.
Product formulas and galenic
Over time, deodorants and antiperspirants for armpits have been distributed in many different, more or less successful forms: powder, fluid, cream, stick, compressible bottle, roll-on, aerosol and pump. James Bennett offers a rather exhaustive analysis of these different types of formulas, some of which are very original, like the stopette.
Since the early 1990s, bioactive tissues have also emerged on the market. They could fight against microbes, and more importantly, against their more embarrassing corollary: odours. Today, armpit protective products meant to offset the effects of sweat are still available.
Now, although deodorants are fully integrated to the category of hygiene products and mainly sold in supermarkets, through mass distribution,
companies specialized in fine perfumery also develop products with this claim. The formulas are focused on the use of a reference perfume and usually completed with a low dose of bactericide.
Every now and then, in this – historical – product category, surprising developments are marketed, as can be seen with this connected product which automatically detects the amount of product to deliver according to the user’s needs (link in French).
Microbiota and microbiome
Of course, this concept is also used on the deodorant segment. The modification of the armpit commensal flora is directly associated with it. That is why a few new products are focused on the protection or restoration of the microbiota.
Just like for all cosmetic products, the claims should be demonstrated and demonstrable. As for products intended to regulate odour levels, some companies use a rather particular technique known for a long time: the “snif test”. It consists in having trained examiners assess the odour levels under the armpits after using the product.
More sophisticated techniques with quantitative approaches can also be used. They combine several strategies and sometimes involve analysers for odour levels.
Issues under discussion
One of the issues is about humans secreting pheromones – or not, as animals do. A few perfume brands have been trying to encapsulate synthetic pheromones, promising the fragrance will help seduce potential partners. But humans have no vomeronasal organ to detect the pheromones secreted by other animals of the same species. Instead, we smell odours thanks to our olfactory system. So it is highly likely that this attempt will not be successful.
A bit of futurology
Beyond mechanisms of action acting on the microbiota, other original approaches are starting to emerge. Here are some exemple : Others actives
Thanks to James Bennett for his remarkable work documenting the American part. And Denis Cantrel for his technical assistance.
Jean Claude LE JOLIFF
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