The Ancient Egyptians Actually Created Deodorant

By Jeff Kelly on Thursday, December 5, 2013
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“The efforts made to eradicate all smell from the female body are part of the same suppression of fancied animality.” —Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (quoted in Webster’s Treasury of Relevant Quotations)

In A Nutshell

Everyone who cares about underarm health and odor—and let’s face it, that should be everyone—knows that the first deodorant was created and trademarked in 1888. Except it turns out that’s not remotely true, because the truth is, deodorant has been around in various forms since the times of Ancient Egypt.

The Whole Bushel

It’s pretty much an accepted idea that up until very recent history, people smelled. Body odor was just a fact of life, because sweat glands weren’t even discovered until the 1700s. The first deodorant that was created and sold was called “Mum,” and was produced in 1888. Just 15 years later, the first antiperspirant, Everdry, was sold in 1903.

Only that’s not at all the case. Contrary to popular knowledge, some cultures have cared about those horrible body odors not just for years, but for centuries. As far as anyone can tell, it dates all the way back to the days of the Ancient Egyptians. Now while it wasn’t what we think of as underarm deodorant today—after all, the Egyptians could build pyramids but could they really be expected to perfect the art of the roll-on?—they did help bring about the practice of making sure your pits don’t stink.

Indeed, the Egyptians not only practiced “scented bathing” but they also decided it may be a good idea to spray their armpits with perfumes in order to not smell so ghastly. This tradition actually carried on and was copied by the Greeks, and like everything else Greek, was eventually stolen by the Romans.

Of course what makes this more astonishing is that these old civilizations apparently had a much better understanding about body and skin health than the ones that came after. Any sort of scented bathing and deodorants fell by the wayside when the growing power of the Church essentially made the very idea of smelling nice and being clean more or less a sin. Soap, which had been invented by the Phoenicians in 600 B.C., was cast aside in favor of smelling like rancid eggs, because that’s apparently what God wanted.

And along with soap, so too did deodorant get thrown in the rubbish pile. It wasn’t really until the European elite started to embrace the concept of not stinking like last month’s tuna casserole that deodorants, colognes, and perfumes came back into vogue in the 1800s.

Now, obviously the “deodorant” invented by the Egyptians was far different than what we use today. But it still stands as perhaps the greatest thing they’ve ever imparted to modern civilization (even better than the condom). Oh, did we mention the Egyptians invented condoms, too? Because they totally did. But they also knew that you’d never get a chance to use one if you smelled like complete garbage. For that lesson, we tip our hats.

Show Me The Proof

NY Times: Deodorants: The Success of Sweet Smell
HowStuffWorks: What was the world’s first underarm deodorant?
Smithsonian: How Advertisers Convinced Americans They Smelled Bad

  • Rijul Ballal

    Yea, i had always heard ancient Egyptian soldiers liked to use Axe.

    • Lisa

      Can you blame them? That stuff gets guys laid!

    • Colonel Duke LaCrosse

      I’ve always wondered people from the ghetto think it’s called Ask.

  • Hadeskabir

    In ancient times people from nobility only washed themselves three times in their entire life: When they were born, when they got married and when they died.

    • HockeyFan69

      That’s a pretty broad statement.

      • Hadeskabir

        The poor people washed themselves more often because they usually were working in the rain. A all natural shower.

      • Robert Downey

        Not to mention untrue.

  • Hadeskabir

    I guess the French still don’t know about the invention of the deodorant. (Joke)

  • Colonel Duke LaCrosse

    “Everyone who cares about underarm health and odor—and let’s face it, that should be everyone—knows that the first deodorant was created and trademarked in 1888.” Really? EVERYONE knows that?

    • Lisa

      Good morning Colonel, you’re right about deodorant being trademarked in 1888, what the article says is that people have been using perfume as a deodorant for thousands of years. I had to read the article twice & finish my coffee to get that. You have a wonderful day!

      • Colonel Duke LaCrosse

        Thanks. You too.

  • Errkism

    People today constantly think things were invented far later than they actually were. The Dark Ages, when the church was in power, was almost like a skip in time. We lost many advances and minor technologies. Take a look at how advanced Roman cities were. Then take a look at the disease ridden shit holes that they became when the church was given power. Imagine how advanced we would be if the church never became so powerful.