With dozens of different brands of lotion lining the cosmetic shelves, you can choose one that absorbs quickly, one that tans your skin or one that exfoliates dead cells. You can even find a lotion with added shimmer to give your shoulders that sun-kissed shine. The desire to rub lotion into skin to soften and protect is nothing new.
Excavation of Mesolithic civilization sites dating as far back as 10,000 B.C. indicate that our earliest ancestors may have rubbed oil from castor plants on their skin. Ancient Egyptian tombs opened within the last century reveal small pottery jars filled with animal fat and olive oil substances to which spices were added. Biblical accounts tell us that people living during that time considered it a luxury to have their feet washed and ointment massaged into the skin.
Numerous kinds of natural plant oils and extracted fragrances made up the lotions of yesteryear, but one popular lotion in Europe actually killed some of the people who wore it. During the Renaissance period, it became popular to slather a lotion made from mercury and white lead on the face, neck and exposed arms in order to create a chalky-white complexion. Not until a physician noticed men and women--mostly royalty--falling ill and dying, did he make the connection.
Lotions of the 15th century began to include ingredients that smelled good. Early recipes for cold cream included beeswax, rose water and olive oil. During the Crusades, Knights returned from battle with new essential oil scents made from flowers and spices. New lotion recipes including these oils were popular with noblewomen.
During the Middle Ages, peasant herbalists passed their knowledge of plants to their offspring, usually female. Together, they would concoct lotions designed to heal skin eruptions and other skin concerns. Comfrey leaves were widely used in these lotions and earned women a reputation of being skilled healers. Today, some medicated lotions still use comfrey leaf extract to speed wound healing, although the Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning not to put it on open wounds.
Dozens of brands of lotion are available on grocery shelves and even more are sold in private boutiques, spas and salons. From anti-aging lotions to lotions that turn colors with the warmth of your body, there seems to be no shortage of lotion for even the most selective person. With the fast pace of cosmetic research into dermatology, it is likely that we will see improved formulations every year.