Who Invented Lotion (Invention Timeline Explained)

Since ancient times, from Sumerians, and Egyptians, to Romans, Chinese, and Japanese, lotions with natural ingredients were already used for skin care. According to historical records, using skin treatments was not confined to women. For example, some ancient Roman Emperors used face-whitening creams. Discover the fascinating history of lotions right here.

Who invented lotion?

According to the earliest evidence, ancient Sumerians and ancient Egyptians used lotion-type salves around 3000 BC. They combined natural ingredients such as honey, oils, and animal fats. Sumerians favored tree oils and pulverized plants. On the other hand, the Egyptians used more components, including honey, milk, herbs, palm oil, nutmeg oil, and castor oil.

Lotion’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Ancient Egyptians and Sumerians
    First lotion-like salve

    Two civilizations created the first known body lotion, the ancient Egyptians and ancient Sumerians, way back in 3000 BC. They used natural ingredients such as pulverized plants, honey, milk, and various oils. But Egyptian queen Hatshepsut used more ingredients because she had skin conditions. As a result, her lotions included a toxic and cancer-causing ingredient, benzopyrene.

  • Ancient Greece and Rome
    Skincare innovations

    The ancient Greeks and Romans consider their skincare innovations as medicine. One of the materials they used was olive oil. Stories alleged that Hera used to apply olive oil all over her body. Athletes used a mixture of fine sand and olive oil as a sunscreen. 

  • Ancient Romans
    First cold cream

    Ancient Romans developed the first cold cream by melting rose oil and beeswax into water. According to historians, the credit for the invention goes to physician Galen, who created the cure-all cream that soothed dry or wounded skin.

  • Pre-Hispanic Latin America
    Facial moisturizer

    Pre-Columbian South and Central Americans created their version of a miracle product. This facial moisturizer made their skin glow from what they called the poor man’s butter, the avocado. Since ancient times, avocados have been known to grow abundantly in the southern hemisphere, and many civilizations utilized avocados as food and medicine.

  • Aboriginal Australia
    Emu oil moisturizer

    Australian aborigines used the oil extracted from the fat pads from the bird’s back to create their emu oil moisturizer to relieve wrinkles, blemishes, and scars. The aborigines introduced emu oil to the Europeans. Until now, people recognized the health and beauty benefits of emu oil.

When was the first lotion invented?

Based on the records of researchers and historians, the first known evidence of lotion use was about 3000 BC. The early users were the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians, with some lotion bottles belonging to Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt. Surprisingly, the lotions contained benzopyrene, an organic compound, one of the world’s most toxic and cancer-causing substances.

Brief history of lotions

You will find that there are several recounts of the origin of lotions. But most records point to the ancient Egyptians and ancient Sumerians, two different civilizations that existed almost simultaneously in 3000 BC, as the first peoples to use a lotion-type salve. It is surprising that even early civilizations recognized the need to care for their skin.

Today, manufacturers spend millions on advertising and marketing to publicize using natural ingredients for their lotion brands. But back then, the ancient peoples already used real and natural ingredients such as berries, flowers, leaves, seeds, honey, natural oils, and animal fats. For example, the ancient Egyptians favored honey, milk, nutmeg oil, palm oil, animal fats, and castor oil. Ancient Sumerians usually mixed tree oils and pulverized plants.

However, evidence showed that Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt’s lotions and creams contained benzopyrene, a toxic and cancer-causing compound, probably to treat her psoriasis or eczema. But you should not be surprised that ancient people also used some unusual ingredients for homemade beauty creams and lotions. For example, the rich women in ancient Rome added gladiator sweat and blood into their face creams, believing that these fluids give them strength. Some women also considered them aphrodisiacs.

For the most part, ancient people created lotions to protect their skin from harsh weather conditions. For example, Greek athletes combined fine sand with olive oil to protect their skin. Women, in particular, used lotions to make their skin soft and smooth. They also used other fruits and vegetables to make their facial skin whiter. Greeks mashed bread in milk to use as facial masks. They moisturized their skin with olive oil and beeswax.

During Japan’s Edo period, geishas were very popular. However, you might be surprised that geishas used bird droppings as an alternative material to whiten their skin, which is less harmful than the lead and zinc they used previously.  

In various countries, then and now, people still use different natural ingredients to cleanse and protect their skin. In the Philippines, coconut oil is popular, while the Aborigines of Australia still use emu oil. African women use mashed pumpkin combined with buttermilk and egg yolk to treat dry skin. For the Chinese, though, their favorite skincare ingredient is goji berry.  

With all these facts, you now know that since ancient times, people have already been aware of skincare’s importance and which natural ingredients to use.  

Lotion timeline

  1. 3000 BC
    Earliest evidence of lotions

    The ancient Egyptians used cosmetics for aesthetics and skin protection. They discovered the benefits of moringa, sesame, and castor oils for wrinkles. Clay and olive oil soap paste cleansed their bodies, while lotions using milk and honey moisturized their skin.

  2. 200 BC
    First cold cream

    Galen, an ancient Roman physician, developed a cold cream. He melted beeswax into rose oil and thinned the mixture with water.

  3. 800 BC
    Natural skincare treatments

    Ancient Greeks mixed milk with berries for facial skin treatments. They also combined olives and olive oil as moisturizers and exfoliants. Likewise, they mixed honey with milk and yogurt as an anti-aging cream.

  4. 12th century
    Promoting white skin

    During the Medieval period, white skin became popular. The people used remedies like cucumbers, rosemary, and aloe vera to have white skin. For facial astringent, they used vinegar and combined honey with various flowers, leaves, and seeds to create facial masks.

  5. 1930s
    First sunscreen

    Swiss chemist Franz Greiter developed the first sunscreen in 1938. In the U.S., Benjamin Green created a mixture of red veterinary petroleum and cocoa butter in 1944 to make a cream that would protect military personnel from overexposure to the sun.

Where was the first lotion invented?

Although the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians were from different regions, evidence showed that these two civilizations had various inventions, including lotions. In addition, they were known to mix water, animal fats, and plant parts for their salves, creams, and lotions.

Why do people love lotions?

  • Softens and cleans skin

    Ancient Egyptians used scented ointments and oils to soften and clean their skin, protect it from wind and sun, and on occasion, to mask their body odor.

  • Soothes skin 

    Ancient people who used to live in present-day Turkey created animal fat-based lotions or creams to soothe their skin irritated by prolonged exposure to the sun,

  • Status symbol

    Most of the Chinese people are fair-skinned, and women, particularly those belonging to the nobility used various creams and lotions made from herbs and oils. Another notable thing the Chinese women did was to apply rice powder on their faces to make their skin look paler, which made their red-painted lips more prominent. For the ancient Chinese women, a pale face was as indication of higher social standing. 

Lotion by the numbers

  • 2Sunscreens have two types – physical and chemical. Sunscreens or suntan lotions are in the chemical category. They allow for sun tanning by providing a thin layer of chemicals limiting UV rays’ absorption. Sunblocks are under the physical type, as they completely block the sun.
  • 2 to 60  When buying sunscreens, you may notice that they have different SPF numbers, which indicate the level of protection against the sun. The higher the number, the most significant protection the sunscreen provides, although the range is not proportionate. For example, SPF 15 provides 93 percent protection, whereas SPF 30 97 percent protection.
  • 3Lotions fall under three types: emollients, humectants, and occlusives. Emollients include oil-based ointments, gels, and lotions that rebuild the skin’s lost lipids. Humectants extract water from the air and seal it in the epidermis. Finally, occlusives are oil, wax, or silicone-based moisturizers acting as barriers to prevent moisture loss.
  • 228.23 In 2020, census data showed that 228.23 million Americans used lotions, creams, and moisturizers.
  • 145.82According to projections, the global skincare market, which was at US$98.83 billion in 2020, will grow to US$145.82 billion by 2028.

Five facts about lotions

Headline Fact
What is the right word?If you have dry skin, you can use lotions, creams, and ointments, all of which are moisturizers. But, they differ in the amount of oil or water they contain. Ointments have the most amount of oil. Creams have less oil, so the greasiness level is lower. Lotions contain more water than oil, but they all seal in moisture.
Common ingredientsLotions have three vital ingredients: stearic acid, glycerin, and water. Water hydrates the skin, while glycerin allows the skin to draw water from the air. Steric acid makes the lotion thicker. Aside from butters or oils, lanolin, the wax from sheep’s wool, is often added to make skin soft.
Facial lotion and body lotion are differentApply body lotion all over your body except your face. Facial skin has smaller pores with larger concentrations of oil glands; thus, it is acne-prone. The skin on your face is thinner and delicate and needs a different skincare regimen. Body lotions have a different formulation to care for thicker, more resilient skin with larger pores.
Daily use of body lotionSimilar to your face, your body needs daily attention, too. Thus, it is advisable to apply body lotion every day. However, there are days when you are busier, leaving you no time to do your skincare regimen. On such occasions, applying body lotion twice or thrice a week is enough to achieve good results.
Proper use of lotionsIt is enough to use body lotion once a day. But, to get the maximum result from your favorite lotion, apply it right after your bath or shower when your body is still damp and warm. It is the perfect time for your skin to absorb the moisturizing benefits of your body lotion.

FAQs about lotions

  • How often should you use lotion?

    You should use lotion every day to keep your skin healthy and dehydrated. For example, if you are treating dry hands, you need to apply lotion every time after washing your hands.

  • How do you use lotion?

    If your skin needs moisturizing, you should apply the lotion after bathing or showering while your skin is still damp. If you have very dry skin, avoid taking frequent, long, or hot washing/bathing because it can worsen your dry skin condition.

  • Can you use expired lotion?

    There is no harm in using expired lotion, but you will not get all the benefits from the product because its active ingredients have lost efficacy, such as in anti-acne or anti-aging products. However, it is best to discard lotions in jars and tubs because they are easy to contaminate.

  • How long does lotion last after opening?

    Most lotions have a suggesting time of opening date. Look for a number followed by the letter M. This number and letter combination indicates the number of months you can use the specific product, which can be from 12 to 24 months.

  • Do lotions have side effects?

    It is rare for lotions to have side effects. However, if irritation, redness, stinging, or burning occurs, visit your doctor immediately because these are signs of allergic reactions.

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