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Body Odor Through the Ages: A Brief History of Deodorant

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I got my first stick of deodorant as a preteen. It was Teen Spirit and made me smell like baby powder and berries. From the first swipe I loved it "“ it called me TEEN "“ and have continued to love this special product that keeps me so fresh and so clean. I wouldn't call it an obsession "“ I reserve that for my books and shoes "“ but these days I keep at least a dozen different kinds of deodorant and antiperspirants on hand. Unfortunately, not everyone shares my love of smelling good. On many occasions throughout history, things have gotten downright funky.

Being stinky and human evolution

When we lived in caves and had just figured out the whole standing upright thing, we were less concerned about body odor. Put simply, humans stunk. Anthropologists now believe that our funky selves helped keep us from being some predator's dinner. Our scent was so rank that the animal about to eat us would actually recoil in horror at the smell and would move on to eat something less repulsive. Now that's a defense mechanism.

Ancient Egyptians

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When they weren't building pyramids, the ancient Egyptians were working hard at masking their own stench. They invented the perfumed bath and would follow it up by applying a liberal amount of perfume to their underarms. Egyptians also tried using carob, incense, and even porridge as deodorant. Women would place globs of scented wax on their heads that would slowly melt throughout the day, spreading the pleasing scent as well as masking the not so pleasant. Messy, but effective.

Ancient Romans and Greeks

The ancient Greeks took a page from the Egyptians, constantly bathing and dousing themselves in perfume. Greek poet Homer once said that good hosts offered their guests baths and aromatic oils. Romans were so fanatical about smelling good that they not only took baths in perfume, they soaked their clothes in it, doused their horses in it, and even perfumed their household pets.

The Middle Ages

Things took a turn for the stank during the Middle Ages, when the church decided that being naked was bad. Even in the bath. So people all but stopped cleaning themselves. Those with the money for it tried to cover the stink by using perfume, a practice that continued well into the 19th century. Those without money just remained fragrant.

Mums the word

The first trademarked deodorant "“ Mum "“ came out in 1888. Created by an unknown Philadelphia inventor, Mum was a paste applied to the underarms. It was soon followed by Everdry, the first effective antiperspirant. Everdry was an aluminum chloride solution that was dabbed on with a cotton swab to less than desirable results. Everdry took forever to dry, was messy, and had a nasty habit of stinging the user and eating through clothes. But hey, at least you weren't sweating. In the mid 1950s, inspired by the ball point pen, the first roll on (Ban) was released. Ten years later, the first aerosol (Right Guard) launched a multi-billion dollar industry.

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[1971 Right Guard ad courtesy of my Rear in Sears.]

Today, about 95% of Americans use deodorant. Whether you wear roll on, use a crystal, take an internal deodorant pill (does that really work?) or even make your own home concoction, just know that the rest of us truly appreciate it.

Stefanie Fontanez is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com. Her last story was about the plague.

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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fun
How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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