Lotion is one of the most commonly-used toiletries in modern times, and it’s difficult to picture life without it. Based on all historical accounts, lotion and moisturizers have been a staple for humans for thousands of years, making this human necessity a timeless product.
No one knows exactly who invented lotion. However, historical records indicate that the Ancient Sumerians and Egyptians were the first to use lotion around 3000 BCE. There are vague records of Native Americans rubbing animal fat on their skin in 6000 BCE to keep warm, but evidence for this is scant.
A Brief History of Lotion
The first evidence of lotion dates back to 3000 BCE in Ancient Egypt and Sumer in Northern Africa.
Using plant or animal oils and honey, the Ancient Egyptians and Sumerians created the first-known lotions to soothe painful skin ailments, give their skin a glistening glow, and heal injuries.
The earliest lotions were made from animal fats or plant-based oils.
These ancient civilizations eventually found that combining crushed herbs or plants and tree oils could also make effective lotions. Later on, they saw that adding wine to moisturizing creams and oils could provide additional antiseptic properties.
Roman and Greek Lotions
In 600 BCE, the Ancient Romans and Greeks invented their own type of lotion by mixing locally-grown herbs and oils. This lotion was made from olive oil mixed with aromatic herbs and resins for the most part, but the poorer classes or Romans and Greeks probably moisturized with tallow (or animal fat) leftover from meals.
They found that different herbs could produce pleasant-smelling lotions and mask the odor of foul-smelling animal fats.
These fragrances were popular among elites, and they were often costly. For that reason, scented lotion was a suitable religious sacrifice, and it was customary to cover the dead with lotion before burying or cremating them.
The Greeks and Romans mainly used it to soothe dry skin during this time, but they also discovered that it could protect their skin from the sun when combined with sand particles. For that reason, sand-infused lotion became a popular sunscreen for athletes, common laborers, and people who served in the military.
Some Romans, especially entertainers and women, liked to add some tin or lead powders to their lotion concoctions as this gave the skin an attractive glow and made it feel soft and powdery.
At about the same time, around 500 to 200 BCE, the ancient Egyptians began using palm and olive oil as a moisturizer. However, since these commodities were expensive imports, it was primarily only available to the wealthy and elites, like Cleopatra and Queen Hatshepsut.
Cleopatra also often bathed in milk and many other Egyptians copied her, finding it to soothe dry skin and gently moisturize it.
Moisturizing and Skin Ailments
Cold cream, which is still widely used today, was invented about 200 BCE in Rome by a doctor who believed it to remedy a wide range of skin ailments. The Ancient Romans made cold cream by mixing rose oil and melted beeswax to form a sticky salve.
It wasn’t unusual to use oils or fats during the Middle Ages and combine them with locally-grown herbs to make a medicinal lotion.
Global Invention of Lotion Concoctions
In the 4th and 5th centuries CE, Indian women began making lotions from flour (or wheat husks) and milk. These lotions provided light moisturizing and exfoliating properties.
In the 12th century CE, people living in South America started discovering that not only could they eat avocados, but they were an effective moisturizer.
At the same time, a German saint called Hildegard of Bingen started experimenting with lotion recipes. Her winning formula was boiled barley, which she used to make a relaxing and refreshing face mask.
In 16th century Australia, locals discovered the benefits of emu fat as a lotion, while colonials widely used lard in the Americas during the 18th century.
A hundred years later, petroleum jelly was invented by Robert Chesebrough. Over the centuries, the formula for petroleum jelly has been tweaked, but is as moisturizing as ever.
Skin Treatments Get Commercialized
Lotion’s commercial value was only realized in the 19th century when lotion makers began selling their moisturizers to the public.
At the same time, the British monarchy and wealthy citizens were given an exclusive lotion to use. It consisted of lead, lavender oil, and almond oil.
People who used the lead-containing lotion repeatedly often fell ill, and it was many years later, doctors discovered that the complexion-improving lead was the cause.
In the early 20th century, lotion became more specialized. Gradually, special creams for the face, hands, and body became available.
In the 1970s, lotion manufacturers began making body butter, a thicker and deeper moisturizer than a regular lotion.
Modern Lotion Enhancements
Modern lotions are continuously being adapted and modified to create improved formulas. Many 21st century lotions are a combination of ancient ingredients and innovative ones.
Today’s popular lotion ingredients include retinol, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, shea butter, glycerine, and perfumes, although you’ll still see beeswax, olive oil, grains, and roses used to improve the recipe.
When Was Lotion Invented?
It’s challenging to determine precisely when lotion was first invented, and no one knows the specific year.
Historians believe that lotion was invented in 3000 BCE in Northern Africa. The first known records of lotion use date back to this time and place, when locals began using oils, fats, honey, and herbs to create basic skin salves.
Some historical records show that Native Americans rubbed oil into their skin in 6000 BCE. However, experts believe that this was to keep warm and not moisturize the skin, lotion’s main aim. Still, it’s hard to tell since we don’t have much written evidence from the Americas during this period.
Interesting Facts To Know About the Invention of Lotion
- In about 300 BCE, the Ancient Egyptians began combining palm and olive oil with other substances to enhance their moisturizing properties. One of these substances was poisonous tar residue, resulting in many Egyptians falling ill or dying.
- In 16th century Australia, Aborigines used emu fat as a lotion. Although it was an excellent moisturizer, it had a very unpleasant odor since the fat was extracted by hanging a dead emu from a tree where the sun would eventually allow the fat to drip down.
- Many of the first lotion ingredients would irritate and inflame the skin of eczema sufferers, causing more harm than good.
- Babies also have sensitive skin, and, depending on the ingredients, applying a homemade lotion hundreds of years ago could cause rashes and discomfort.
Who Made the First Lotion?
The person who made the first lotion was likely an ancient Sumerian or Egyptian person from around 3000 BCE. They combined plant oils, animal fats, and crushed herbs to form a moisturizer, which we have evidence for from archeological findings.
Although there are some historical records from this time, they don’t indicate the name of the person who invented lotion. Instead, we only have trade records and archeological evidence, which we can use to see that lotion exports from Egypt and Sumer were substantial.
In addition, we know what ingredients were used to make these concoctions from the chemical analysis of jars and pots from Northern Africa. These well-preserved artifacts still contain traces of oils, plants, and fats, allowing us to find the ancient recipes for lotion with a lab test.
So, although the inventor of this timeless staple remains nameless, they have left traces of their creations for us to find in the modern days. Whoever it was, they made a lasting mark on history.
What Did They Use for Lotion in the 1700s and 1800s?
The 1700s and 1800s saw a lot of progress in the development of lotion. The industrial revolution meant that inventing new products was easier and marketing them as international exports was possible.
During the 1700s and 1800s, people often used melted candle wax, pig fat, and rosewater for lotion. In the late 1800s, petroleum jelly (or Vaseline) was invented and featured a mixture of oil leftovers from machinery pumps.
The type of lotion used in the 1700s and 1800s also depended on the location. Since lotion was not yet a marketed product bought at stores, people used what they had at home to moisturize.
The kinds of plant and oil fats vary from country to country. Pig fat was commonly used in the United Kingdom, while avocado oil was popular in South America.
Other Uses of Lotion
Apart from using your lotion to moisturize your skin, you can use it for many other things:
- Shaving cream. Shaving cream can feel like an irritating expense when you’re on a budget. Luckily, lotion works just as well in place of shaving cream!
- Remedy for static. If you live in a dry area, you probably find static electricity highly annoying. Lotion is a beautiful remedy for unwanted static. Run a small amount through your hair or over your pantyhose to prevent static electricity from bothering you.
- Conditioner for dry hair. If you’ve run out of hair conditioner, or your conditioner is helping to keep your hair moisturized, rub a little lotion through the ends of your hair for some extra hydration.
- Scissor sharpener. You can revive blunt scissors by covering them in a bit of lotion and then rubbing it off with a soft rag. This treatment helps to remove rust and other build-up.
- Pet hair remover. Having pet hair all over your couch can make keeping your home clean challenging. Remove pet hair easily by rubbing some lotion in your hands and then wiping the pet hair off the sofa with your palms.
- All-purpose lubricant. With its slick texture, you can also use lotion in place of lubricant. A small blob of moisturizer can help open a stuck jewelry clasp, stop a door from creaking, or help remove sticky labels.
- Leather conditioner. Leather is beautiful but must be maintained to last. If your leather items look dry and brittle, gently rub some lotion into them for an inexpensive conditioning treatment.
- Lip balm. Run out of or lose your lip balm? Did you know that regular lotion makes an excellent lip moisturizer?
- Inexpensive face mask. Don’t have money to hit the spa? No problem! If you have some lotion lying around, thickly apply it to your face for an intensely moisturizing mask.
- Makeup remover. Eye and face makeup removers can be costly, but if you have some lotion in your bathroom cabinet, this makes an equally effective makeup remover.
- Cleanser. If you don’t have access to soap and need to remove dirt from your hands or elsewhere, you can use lotion instead. Apply a bit of lotion to the skin, gently wipe it off, and then rinse with warm water.
Lotion has been around for over five thousand years. It’s thought to have been invented in 3000 BCE in Ancient Egypt and Sumeria, although the person who first thought of it remains nameless.
The first lotions were very basic, consisting of animal or plant oil and crushed herbs. Over the years, humans began discovering new ingredients for their moisturizers, making them more effective.
Lotions have evolved a great deal, and today consumers enjoy lotions with excellent moisturizing properties and innovative ingredients to address their skin concerns.
- Quora: Who Invented Lotion?
- Reference.com: When Was Lotion First Invented?
- Merchant Circle: The History of Body Cream
- INB Medical: A Brief History of Skincare Through the Ages
- Wikipedia: Sumer
- Britannica: Cleopatra
- History.com: Hatshepsut
- Classic FM: Hildegard of Bingen
- Wikipedia: Robert Cheseborough
- Medical News Today: Emu Oil
- Wikipedia: Cold Cream