We took a deep dive into the science behind your swipe stick—and discovered some startling truths
We sweat for a reason. And yet we spend $18 billion a year trying to stop or at least mask the smell of our sweat. Yep, that's $18 billion a year spent on deodorant and antiperspirants. But even though you use it every day, we doubt you know all of these surprising facts about your swipe sticks.
According to the New York Times, ancient Egyptians "invented the art of scented bathing" and took to applying perfume to their pits. The first trademarked deodorant—in 1888!—was called Mum, and the first antiperspirant, Everdry, followed 15 years later, the Times reported.
It seems that our bodies do adapt to the sweat-thwarting ways of antiperspirants, but no one really knows why, HuffPost Style reports. The body may adapt and find a way to unplug the glands, or simply produce more sweat in the body's other glands, so it's a good idea to switch up your deodorant products every six months or so.
Fun fact: While women have more sweat glands than men, men's sweat glands produce more sweat. But deodorant for men or for women is most likely little more than a marketing ploy. In at least one brand, the same active ingredient is present in the same amounts in the sticks for men and women, Discovery Health reports. It's only packaging and fragrance that differs.
We're still falling for it though: As of 2006, unisex deodorants make up just 10 percent of the sweat-fighting market, according to USA Today.
Deodorant advertisers have done a pretty good job of convincing us that we're disgustingly smelly animals who need to be refined by their products. But most people don't smell as bad as they think they do, Esquire reports, and some, who come from a particularly lucky gene pool, don't even smell at all.
Short of forgoing all deodorant long enough to discover your true scent, you can get an idea about your own personal smell factor by examining your earwax. (Hey, no one said this wouldn't be gross!) White, flaky ear gunk most likely means you could toss the deodorant stick, because dry earwax producers are missing a chemical in their pits that the odor-causing bacteria feed on, according to LiveScience. Earwax dark and sticky? Don't be so quick to toss your deodorant.
The aluminum compounds in antiperspirants effectively stop up the eccrine sweat glands. But the FDA only requires that a brand cut back on sweat by 20 percent to boast "all day protection" on its label, the Wall Street Journal reports. An antiperspirant claiming "extra strength" only has to cut down on wetness by 30 percent.
The dominant theory is that the aluminum-based ingredients in antiperspirants somehow react with sweat, skin, shirts, laundry detergent (or all of the above) to make that foul stain. Hanes is even "researching the 'yellowing phenomenon,'" according to the Wall Street Journal. The only way to truly prevent them is to say no to aluminum-based antiperspirants.
Sweat isn't inherently stinky. In fact, it's nearly odorless. The stench comes from bacteria that break down one of two types of sweat on your skin. Deodorant contains some antibacterial power to stop the stink before it starts, while antiperspirants deal with sweat directly.
A number of plant oils and extracts contain their very own antibacterial powers, so in theory you can make your own stench-fighting deodorant relatively easily. However people seem to find all-natural, store-bought products to have varying degrees of efficacy—not to mention you won't find an all-natural antiperspirant, just odor blockers.