For as long as we have had skin we have had problems with our outer covering. Treating the skin with chemicals dates back to the ancient Egyptians who used arsenic on the skin to kill cancer. They also used animal oils, salt, alabaster, and sour milk to improve the appearance of skin. Cleopatra was reputed to take milk baths, enjoying the cosmetic benefits of lactic acid, the first alpha-hydroxy acid, for softer, smoother skin.
was evolving. In India, women sought soft, smooth skin from a mixture of urine and pumice applied to their faces. And the Greeks and Romans used mixtures of pumice, frankincense, myrrh, and tree resins to lighten the skin, remove freckles, and smooth wrinkles. Turkish treatments used fire to lightly singe the skin for exfoliation.
Some techniques we use today have their roots in the dim past. As early as 1500 BC, Egyptian physicians were experimenting with using sandpaper to smooth scars. By the 1900s, dermatologists began using sandpaper as well as motorized dermabrasion for skin rejuvenation. In 1995, microdermabrasion for mild exfoliation and resurfacing was introduced in a popular, light “polishing” facial peel.
The start of the 20th century saw greater innovations in skin treatment using electrosurgery (treatment with electrical currents) and cryosurgery (the use of extreme cold) with subsequent developments in liposculpture (removal of fats from under the skin surface) and hair transplants taking place in the first half of the century. The early 1900s also witnessed the introduction of peels to strip away dead skin and expose new healthier skin, through the use of Phenol peels in particular.
The opening of the first great school of dermatology, the Hôpital Saint-Louis in Paris (1801), helped establish the medical specialty. By the mid 1800s,
who trained at specialized schools played an increasingly important role in skin care and repair. One of the biggest breakthroughs came at the end of the century (1899), with the introduction of cryosurgery. Used to remove cancerous skin lesions, the procedure remains the most popular way to treat skin cancer to this day. Other important discoveries in dermatology history include electrosurgery, dermabrasion, chemical peels, and laser treatments.