Each Q-Tips box has a warning label: “Do not insert the swab into the ear canal,” and if you are going to use it to clean your ears, gently wipe the outside only.
But Wax extraction from the ear canals This is exactly why most of us buy Q tips in the first place. The humble Q-tip is so perfectly designed for this purpose that it has turned into a generic word for a product.
However, somehow, we use it for the same thing It specifically warns us not to do so.
The origins of this strange consumer phenomenon can be traced back to Leo Gerstenzang, an immigrant from Poland.
In 1923, Gerstenzang thought he could improve on the way his wife Ziota wrapped a piece of cotton around a toothpick to clean their newborn daughter Betty’s eyes, ears, belly button and other sensitive areas while bathing.
Gerstenzang founded a company that year to develop and manufacture the first turnkey plant Sterile cotton swabs to take care of the child. Over the next two years, he worked on designing a machine that could produce swabs “untouched by human hands.”
“Baby Betty Gays” was the original business name for the swabs because daughter Betty laughed when her parents tickled her, according to her payment in 2017. obituary. By the time Gerstenzang put out one of the first press ads for his invention in 1925, it was true. shortening to “gay children”.
Gerstenzang soon changed the brand name to “Q-Tips Baby Gays”. By the mid-1930s, “Baby Gays” had been deleted from the name.
There are competing histories as to where the addition of the “Q-tips” came from. According to a Unilever spokesperson
(water)a consumer goods group that purchased Q-Tips in 1987, the letter “Q” stands for “quality” and “tips” describe the cotton swab at the end of the stick (the first one-sided swabs were sold in slip-on tins).
But, according to Betty’s obituary, the “Q-tips” was a play on “Cutie-Tips” because she was so cute as a baby.
Q Tips never told us to stick swabs in the ear canal to remove earwax. But since its inception in the 1920s, it has made ear care a major focus of its marketing strategy. This has trained generations of Americans to associate it with cleaning up there.
Mid-century advertisements often included illustrations of men and women cleaning their ears or the ears of their children with them, including a picture of a man water removal from his ears after swimming.
Older versions of the boxes listed “Adult Ear Care” as a Main use for the product.
Even Betty White later appeared in TV ads for Q Tips in the ’70s and ’80s, promoting it as “The safest and softest wipes In the market for your eyes, nose and ears.
Q-tips are almost addictive to use to remove wax and become a vicious cycle when we do that, said Douglas Backus, a neurologist who specializes in treating conditions of the ear and skull. Removing earwax results in dry skin, and we then want to rub it – of course – with a cotton tip.
Sticking Q-tips in your ears can also damage the ear canal. Most people don’t actually need to remove earwax either, as the ears are self-cleaning. Inserting a swab can trap earwax even deeper, he said, “and you’re actually working against yourself by using it.”
It wasn’t until the 1970s, under former owner Chesebrough-Pond’s, that Q Tips added a warning about not sticking the thing in your ear. It is not clear the reason for this change.
“The company has no details as to why they did this, and our search of the records did not reveal a reported case of anyone with a brain smear,” The Washington Post mentioned in 1990. “Something must have happened, and Chesbro Bond didn’t want to blame it.”
But by the time the Q-tips added the warning label, it was too late. It became impossible to break consumer habits, and Q-Tips controlled about 75% of the cotton swabs market.
“It’s been accepted that this is the way people use it,” said Aaron Calloway, Q-Tips brand manager at Unilever in 2007 and 2008.
so what should You are using Q-Tips for? The company has several suggestions. For decades, I have tried to emphasize the versatility of cotton swabs.
During the 1940s, Q tips were positioned as an essential cosmetic and beauty tool for women.
“Mom, did you know you can use Q-Tips for so many things?…You can use them yourself when using cream or makeup, Mommy!” Reading a 1941 print ad.
Another print ad, a decade later, described Q Tips as a “beauty assistant” for women.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Q-tips began telling consumers that they were more than just kids or women – they were useful for any project around the house or in their lives.
“For lubricating saws and augers… guns and fishing reels… fixing a teacup and cleaning up jewelry… antique furniture,” the 1971 ad read.
Today, Q-Tips ads are no ears. A spokesperson for the brand says 80% of consumers use Q Tips for purposes other than personal care.
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