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