Anatomy of a Skin Cleanser

Howard A. Epstein, MS

In This Article


Ancient Egyptians used cleansing materials such as animal and plant oils to remove body oils and facial makeup. Their priests ritually cleansed their own bodies twice daily. Several centuries later, soap was invented -- sometime between 600 and 300 BC -- and the Romans took full advantage of this cleanser. With the rise of Christianity in the Middle Ages came an abhorrence of Roman baths, so people bathed much less often. Curiously, this decline in the bathing habit coincided with the devastating plagues that occurred throughout Europe.[1,2]

Throughout the later Middle Ages until the more modern era, soap remained a luxury product for the wealthy -- until the availability of NaOH in the compounding of soap reduced the cost and increased supply. The first individually wrapped soap bar was developed in England in 1884, establishing cleansing trends that promised freshness and sensory and health benefits. These trends drove continuous growth of the soap market into the 20th century.[1] During the 20th century, the market trended to deodorant and beauty-bar soaps. As marketing became more sophisticated in the promotion of these products, consumer use increased, accompanied by an increase in soap-induced skin irritation. The introduction of synthetic detergents in 1948 led to the development of cleansing bars that were much less irritating than traditional soap bars.[1] Major advances in developing cleansing products less drying to the skin occurred in the 1960s, when the fatty acid isethionate and higher levels of fatty acids were formulated in soap bars.[3]