Have you ever put on deodorant and then wondered how people smelled before it was invented? We all know people in the past washed less and didn’t have access to the same cleaning facilities that we have – so how did they cope?
There were a lot of solutions to bad smells in the past, although some people certainly did smell unpleasant. People tried a variety of techniques to combat unpleasant smells, such as rose water, scented soaps, and aromatic oils. Different techniques have been popular at different times and in different places.
It’s hard to imagine a world without deodorant, so in this article, we’re going to explore why deodorant was invented, what other items got used as deodorants, and how people coped and dealt with body odors in the years gone past.
Did Everyone Smell Before Deodorant?
Before deodorant existed, people certainly would have had more of an odor than they do now. However, it is important to remember that deodorant does not get rid of existing smells; it simply disguises them with a scent of its own. You can smell bad even when wearing deodorant at times.
How bad people smelled also depends on what period of history you look at, and where you look. Certain civilizations were much cleaner and tidier than others, while some disliked bathing and rarely washed or tried to improve their personal hygiene.
Some Deodorant History
It is thought that the deodorant was invented in 1888, and its purpose was to kill off the underarm bacteria that produce odors. It was marketed toward women as a way of tackling unwanted smells, and was an alternative to using a lot of perfume to try to disguise body odor.
Initially, few men used deodorant, as smelling strong was considered a masculine characteristic. It was not thought that they needed to cover it up. However, as time went on, more deodorants were marketed toward men too, and in 1935, the first deodorant specifically for men was created.
Today, deodorant is considered a must-have product in many societies, and few people would dream of going without it. It is strange to think that only 100 years ago, it was an optional product mostly targeted at women.
What Did People In The Past Use For Deodorant?
This depends heavily on what society you look at and when. For example, the Ancient Egyptians used incense, wax, and scented baths. They even tried porridge as a form of deodorant, and they invented things like breath mints. Some fashionable ladies would put blobs of scented wax on their foreheads and allow them to melt throughout the day.
In Asia, people used natural deodorant rock to combat the bacteria growing under the arms, which may have been effective and is still sometimes used today.
Olive oil has also been used as a deodorant and the basis for perfumes, and musk – taken from the genitals of male deer – has also been a very popular option. It is no longer used today, but there are synthetic recreations of the same scent.
Another common ingredient for perfumes was ambergris, which comes from the intestines of sperm whales and has a lovely aroma once it has dried and hardened. This was not used for deodorants, but the idea of masking scent was still there.
How Did People Survive Without Deodorant?
This is a challenging one to answer, because there were probably many different solutions, and again, the time and the place would have made a significant difference. In some societies, it is likely that body odor was considered a pleasant scent, and not bad the way that we think of it now.
That might sound surprising to you, but think about how much your association with a smell can change the way you perceive that smell. For example, if you associate the smell of hospitals with a parent or partner, you probably like antiseptics and bleach, while other people may hate them.
It isn’t always about the association, either. Sometimes, people just enjoy certain scents – the way some people like the smell of gas and others hate it. Because they were familiar with the smell of bodies, people in the past probably didn’t find them unpleasant the way that we do now.
Of course, people also survived by washing and by using perfumes and scented oils. Not all societies refused to wash regularly – although some certainly did – and soaps have been in existence for centuries. However, bear in mind that washing and drying clothing would have been much harder then than it is now.
How Did People Deal With Body Odor Back Then?
It depends on which society you look at, but most had at least some methods for tackling their smell. Regular bathing and scented oils were probably the most popular and widespread methods. Some societies, like the Romans, created communal baths so that everybody could stay clean, and this probably contributed to the general health of the populace too.
In other cultures, people who couldn’t afford baths or didn’t have access to them would have bathed in rivers and streams, or carried water back to their homes to heat it in front of the fire. Not all of them would have had access to scented soaps, and in these cases, they probably simply put up with – or didn’t notice – the smell.
It is only in today’s world, where we are much more conscious of and sensitive to body odors, that they are seen as so offensive. Many ancient civilizations either didn’t care, or were satisfied with their other methods for keeping clean and relatively odor-free. It might seem strange to us now, but deodorant was certainly not a necessity of life.
It’s likely that people smelled more before deodorant was invented, but it’s important to remember that washing regularly is still a critical part of keeping down body odor – and many ancient civilizations washed. By staying clean and applying scented oils or perfumes, some people in the past might not have smelled as bad as you would expect!
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