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Q-tips turn 80 (Who knew?)

Today's Rx

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

A goofy-looking item found in bathrooms everywhere celebrates its 80th birthday this year.

It's the Q-tip cotton swab, invented by Leo Gerstenzang in 1923. He got the idea watching his wife apply wads of cotton to toothpicks to clean hard-to-reach areas.

He sold it through his Leo Gerstenzang Infant Novelty Co. in New York City, which marketed baby care accessories. He first called them Baby Gays, and later changed the name to Q-tips Baby Gays. The Q stands for quality.

Demand for the product grew as people found more uses for it. Families used tips moistened with warm water to clean a baby's outer ear, his nostrils and the folds of his neck or between his toes. They're used to apply makeup as well as clean parts of CD players.

By the 1980s, all tips were made with all cotton, and antibacterial swabs were introduced in 1998.

Representatives from Unilever, the company that now owns Q-tips, said 25.5 billion Q-tips are produced each year.

While many people might be tempted to use Q-tips to clean the inside of their ears, such a practice can push ear wax deeper toward the delicate eardrum and block hearing. Everyone should follow this [health] tip:

Don't put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow!

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