The History of Dermatology

by | Mar 17, 2023 | Blog

Skin disorders make up a significant portion of the world’s diseases, affecting millions globally. While we now have the technological advancements to address these issues, that wasn’t always the case. Dermatology has come a long way, undergoing an extreme transformation throughout history.

If you’re wondering where facials, peels, and other skin treatments originated, here’s a brief history of dermatology to satisfy your curiosity. You might be surprised to learn that we have the Egyptians and Romans to thank for starting skincare.

Ancient Dermatology

The ancient Egyptians were the first to invent dermatological practices, employing various methods to solve cosmetic and medical problems. An example would be their use of arsenic for skin cancer. It shows how clever and resourceful they were because doctors today still use certain forms of arsenic to treat blood cancers. They were also the first to try curing leprosy, using sandpaper as an early form of microdermabrasion to treat the skin.

There’s also proof that taking care of the skin was vital to the Romans in ancient times. Celsus, a Roman physician, wrote about acne in his book De Medicina. He recommended a mixture of vinegar and galbanum to treat the skin.

Dermatology in the Middle Ages and Renaissance Period

The Middle Ages and the Renaissance period produced the first literary works that would shape the world of dermatology. Avicenna, a Persian philosopher, wrote a series of books called Canon of Medicine in 1025. They were the first written material to cite skin conditions, focusing on more severe issues. This collection served as an essential source of medical knowledge for the next hundreds of years.

Geronimo Mercuriali, an Italian physician, wrote De Morbis Cutaneis in 1572, which translates to “diseases of the skin”. The medical world recognizes it as the first written work focusing on dermatology.

Dermatology From the Enlightenment to the Modern Period

The book De Morbis Cutaneis by Daniel Turner was the first complete book on dermatology published in English, helping spread the practice to the United Kingdom. The book touched on topical medicines and how they can penetrate the skin’s pores and enter a person’s body.

In 1799, dermatology became a separate branch of medicine, marked by the release of the textbook Dermatologia by Francesco Bianchi. He wrote it specifically for medical students. Shortly after that, a dedicated school for dermatology opened in Paris. Called Hôpital Saint-Louis, it allowed medical students to learn about dermatology.

In the latter half of the 1800s, a group of dermatologists opened the Vienna School of Dermatology. These individuals, namely Moritz Kaposi and Ferdinand von Hebra, played a significant role in the modernization of dermatology.

Dermatology in the 20th Century

There was rapid growth in dermatology in the 1900s, marked by a shift in people’s mindsets. Greater focus was given to skincare and preventative measures, particularly protecting the skin from the sun. A key milestone was the invention of synthetic sunscreen by L’Oréal founder Eugene Schueller. It contained benzyl salicylate, which was effective in absorbing UV rays.

The field of dermatology advanced even further in the 1960s with the invention of laser technology. By the 1980s, various laser treatments were available to treat skin disorders. Laser technologies we’re developing today have their roots in those pioneering days.

The Bottom Line

The skin treatments and medications we benefit from today have deep historical roots. It’s something to ponder the next time you slather on your sunscreen. For more information, contact Complete Family Dermatology at (402) 423-1111.

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