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If you check out the website Smell Report, you’ll learn about a topic you probably haven't spent a lot of time contemplating: the history of body sprays. So where did it all begin? Perhaps with 11th century alchemists like Avicenna, who tried to find the soul of Islam’s Holy Rose by making a body fragrance. It was a development that may have helped jump-start the evolution of body sprays. Before that time, scents were primitive and scary, consisting of gums, gooey stuff and resins that did little to mediate the stink factor. Happily, things have changed and body sprays are now as popular with guys as they are with women.
Body Fragrances as Medicine
The aforementioned Avicenna’s pioneering work was based on the first doctor to lay claim to diagnosing illnesses by smelling patient’s bodies: Hippocrates. For centuries, physicians diagnosed everything from plagues to colds by nosing around a sick patient, then prescribing the wearing of scented pouches to ward off disease. This patient treatment method stuck around until the 18th century when the science of aromatics piqued. Doctors were still using perfumes in the early 19th century to “cure” everything from hysteria to colds, but an end was in sight.
No Miracle Smell Cures
Doctors on the forefront on 19th century medical advances grew “aromaphobic” and discounted the work of medical practitioners relying more on fragrance than pharmaceuticals to ward off illnesses. As a result of pioneering work in the role hygiene plays in keeping people healthy, perfumes were relegated to the place they belonged: non-essential toiletries that contributed mightily to a woman’s sex appeal. By the 1950s, perfume was an essential weapon in a woman’s arsenal, but scents were so heavy, a small application was enough to fill a room. Lighter scents were the next logical move, which is why perfume makers expanded their lines and began marketing delicate, light fragrances in the form of colognes, toilet waters and body sprays.
Smellin’ Good, Dude
One of the first body sprays for men to enter the market was a fragrance called “Impulse,” first manufactured in 1972 by the French company Faberge and Unilever, a Dutch-British toiletry company. “Men can’t help acting on Impulse,” declared the slogan marketers wrote for the product's introduction. Despite the fact that an English company had a hand in bringing Impulse to market, it didn't reach U.K. store shelves until 1979 when that catchy slogan introduced British guys to the body spray. Equal opportunity promoters, this consortium of manufacturers introduced the women’s equivalent of Impulse in 1980 as four body sprays: Always Alluring, Delightfully Daring, Instantly Innocent and Suddenly Sassy.
Axe Nerds vs. Old Spice Guy
The impact of Impulse on the buying habits of guys helped elevate men’s fragrances to new heights. Companies resurrected old brands like 19th century favorite Lilac Vegetal and Old Spice added body sprays to their product lines. But it was the introduction of Axe body sprays that elevated the product from fad to trend. “The Axe Effect,” a promotional campaign featuring dorky guys landing hot chicks thanks to wearing the brand, sent sales into the stratosphere. To counter, Old Spice introduced the Old Spice guy whose goofy schtick became a YouTube sensation. These days, body sprays for women are as plentiful as sprays for men, particularly those bearing Victoria’s Secret, Healing Garden and Bath and Body Works labels.