Who Invented Lotion: The Strange History of Moisturizers

Jenna Jolls

The Strange History of Skin and Facial Moisturizers

Ready to dive into the strange history of skin and facial moisturizers? Our microbiome-friendly moisturizer may be relatively new on the scene, but humans have been craving soft and supple skin since, well, forever. Elementary forms of "skin cream" go back as far as 10,000 years, when Native Americans began rubbing animal fat on themselves to keep warm.

Here, we walk you through a timeline of the other historical lotions and potions that lead us to where we are today - the practical, the strenuous, and the downright bizarre.

Skin Care History 101

Ancient Greece and Rome (beginning 600 B.C.): The dawn of modern medicine brought a range of skincare innovations. Olive oil was chief among them: Hera would allegedly lather it on herself before seducing Zeus. Athletes, in particular, used olive oil and fine sand to protect their skin from the sun's drying rays.

Meanwhile, barbers dunked spider webs in oil and vinegar in Rome and rubbed them onto freshly shaved faces to soothe razor burn.

Ancient Egypt (200-500 B.C.): Cleopatra also applied olive and palm oils to her skin to maintain her air of soft youthfulness. 

But before you go mixing your recipe, beware: these lotions were not always so successful. Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut, one of the few female pharaohs, likely experienced death by moisturizer when she adopted a skin regimen that included hefty amounts of toxic tar residue. (A friendly reminder to read those ingredients!)

The First Creams

The first cold cream (200 B.C.): By melting beeswax and rose oil into water, the famed ancient Roman physician Galen created a "cure-all" of sorts intended to soothe wounded or dry-feeling skin. Thus, an early version of the modern cold cream was born.

Pre-Hispanic Latin America (the 1100s and earlier): Avocados were the go-to miracle product in Central and South America, dating far back before Columbian times. "The poor man's butter," abundant in the southern hemisphere, was (and still is!) said to moisturize and improve skin glow. Is there anything avocados can't do?

Introducing: Moisturizers

The first facial moisturizer (the 1100s): Hildegard of Bingen, also known as Saint Hildegard, invented a soon-widespread recipe for softness in Germany. She cooked barley in boiling water, strained it, and placed it on the face, creating a fresh "steamed" feel.

Aboriginal Australia (the 1500s and earlier): Early Australians turned to emus (yes, the flightless birds) for a moisturizer made from fat pads. It gets weirder: to extract this particular oil, natives would hang emu skin on a tree, using the sun's heat to liquefy and drip the gizzard fat.

Colonial America (the 1700s): Americans also relied on lard to stay soft. A record of lard-inclusive recipes cites a mixture of hog fat, candle wax, and rose water.

Say Hello to Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum Jelly (the 1870s): Vaseline, patented in 1872, quickly became the base for a wide range of new body and facial moisturizers. Did you know this popular product was initially made from the oil-rig residue leftover from machine pumps?

The invention of lip balm (the 1880s): Dr. C. D. Fleet, a physician from Virginia, introduced the idea of moisturization to our lips with the first balm. It resembled a small candle wrapped in tin foil. A few incarnations later, Chapstick was sold to general stores in 1912.

Body Butter takes hold (the 1970s): We have The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick to thank the popularity of “body butter,” a thick, heavy cream made of bean and nut oils. It was an instant bestseller.

Microbiome-Friendly Moisturizers

The first microbiome-friendly moisturizer (fall 2016!): After eras of collective experimentation, Mother Dirt created a new moisturizer that is both natural and highly effective. Plus, it won't hurt your microbiome.

Go ahead, give it a try. As you can see, we would never have gotten anywhere without a little experimentation!

We can't wait to see what is next and how technology continues to change the course of beauty history forever.

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