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A Brief History of Skin Cleansing

The history of soap dates back to ancient Babylon. Tablets indicating soap formulations that were estimated to be created around 2200 BC have been found, and it is speculated that the earliest formulations of simple soap existed as early as 2800 BC. Some form of oil and salts were thought to be used. The Phoenicians, well known for creating the prototype of the alphabet, are credited for the formulations that resemble modern soap. Created as early as 600BC, these early soaps were made from a combination of water, goat fat, and ash.

Through most of the ancient and medieval times, soap was a luxury item, and largely restricted to wealthy aristocrats. Bathing and cleansing practices as well as notions about general hygiene also varied widely depending on the prevailing culture at the time. In certain periods, bathing itself fell out of favor due to it becoming associated with disease or immorality. Overall, however, bathing was a common enough practice and has a large history. Soap, however, was produced only in small quantities on a small scale until the industrial revolution.

In the late 19th century germ theory was beginning to take over the previously held notion that diseases were carried by a kind of air pollution called miasma. In North America, germ theory was relatively slow to take root, and many doctors were sceptical in the early 20th Century. This new understanding led not only to medical advances, especially in surgery, but also a renewed interest in soap and cleansing practices. As the need to control potentially harmful micro organisms became clear, along with the capability of mass production, soap became a regular household item and a necessary part of general hygiene.

Modern soaps are formulated with a combination of animal or vegetable oil, and contain lauric, oleic, palmatic, or stearic acid, and remove dirt and oil from the surface of the skin. Removing dirt, oil, sweat, and other substances that the skin comes into contact with has become important not just as a general health practice, but also for aesthetic reasons.