The History of Facial Peels and How They’ve Changed Over the Years.
Would you believe us if we told you that Cleopatra regularly indulged in facial peels to rejuvenate her complexion? While her technique may look a little different from the products currently holding a spot on our shelves, it’s true that this much-loved treatment has had a place in skincare dating back to ancient Egyptians. Despite centuries of fine tuning formulas and scientific discoveries, some of the ingredients used in facial peels (like our beloved AHAs) are still found in products today—which is a true testament to their efficacy. Keep scrolling for a peek at how facial peels have changed over the years.
Ancient TimesOne of the first known records of a "facial peel" was discovered during ancient times, when the Egyptians (yes, including the queen Cleopatra herself) would bathe in sour milk to exfoliate and restore their skin. This actually isn’t as weird as it sounds; one of the most common AHAs, lactic acid, is derived from milk. It’s a gentle exfoliant that leaves behind a smooth and supple complexion—no need to leave the milk out though, we included it in The Shortcut Overnight Facial.
Late 1800sThere wasn’t much progression on the facial peel front until 1874, when the Austrian dermatologist Ferdinand von Hebra experimented with peeling formulas (that included ingredients like phenol, croton oil, and nitric acid) to treat hyperpigmentation, particularly melasma, dark spots stemming from Addison’s disease, and freckles. Meanwhile in Germany, Paul G. Unna was curating treatments made with the acne-fighting salicylic acid and trichloroacetic acid, an ingredient found in medium-level chemical peels known as a TCA peel. Although these formulas helped shape a prototype for the facial peels we use today, back then these treatments were considered medical—not cosmetic—and were performed at hospitals for patients with severe scarring and spots (not for those seeking the anti-aging benefits facial peels are touted for today). It wasn’t until word got around that chemical peels were being for cosmetic purposes in Paris, then referred to as “ecorchement” (or “skinning” in French), that facial peels became normalized as a beauty treatment.
Still, facial peels back then were not for the faint of heart. Typically a potent formula, softened with boiling water, was applied to the skin using a brush and covered with strips of gauze. After several days, the bandaging was lifted and a fresh (yet red and scabbed) complexion was revealed. Results couldn’t be proudly exhibited for some time, though, as it was recommended the patient remain secluded until these side effects subsided.