Cosmeceutical Critique

Dermatologists and the history of skin care and beauty devices: Part 4


In this series on the role dermatologists have played in the history of skin care, I have covered dermatologists who developed cosmeceutical ingredients, dermatologists who consulted for the skin care industry, and those who developed a novel and successful skin care line. In this column, part 4 of the series, I will continue to discuss the role that dermatologists have played in developing skin care products and devices used in the skin care and beauty industry.

Dermatologists and Stiefel Laboratories

The Stiefel Medicinal Soap Company, founded in 1847, later became Stiefel Laboratories and was sold to GlaxoSmithKline in 2009. Stiefel Laboratories made many contributions over the years to the field of dermatology as chronicled in the excellent book, Skin Saga” written by Charles Stiefel and published in 2018. The company was first known for soaps and groundbreaking products, such as “Freckle Soap” that sped epidermal turnover, resulting in a more even toned complexion.

Courtesy of Dr. Leslie Baumann

The Stiefel Medicinal Soap Company was first known for soaps and groundbreaking products, such as "Freckle Soap" that sped epidermal turnover, resulting in a more even toned complexion.

Many dermatologists were involved in developing products and providing advice to the company. Herman Sharlit, MD, in New York, had the idea for a moisturizing soap (Oilatum), a detergent soap (Acne Aid detergent soap), and a coal tar soap (Polytar). Eugene Farber, MD, who was professor and chairman of the department of dermatology at Stanford (Calif.) University, consulted for Stiefel Laboratories and helped them identify and develop many products over the years.1 Stiefel Labs came out with the first facial scrub called Brasivol, an abrasive cream with aluminum oxide particles – the predecessor to modern day microdermabrasion. This facial scrub was conceived by dermatologist Rose Saperstein, MD, Los Angeles, who published a report2 on this in 1960 and also received a patent for it in 1963.3 Brasivol became the company’s first million dollar product.1

Stiefel Laboratories worked with many dermatologists to help them develop their ideas. They included Cleveland White, MD, who patented a highly absorbent foot and body powder known as Zeasorb powder. William Pace, MD, was a Canadian dermatologist who patented an acne treatment containing benzoyl peroxide and sulfur that Stiefel Labs marketed as Sulfoxyl Lotion. Dr. Pace is lovingly referred to as “the father of benzoyl peroxide” because his idea led Stiefel Labs to develop more benzoyl peroxide products. Benzoyl peroxide remains the most popular OTC ingredient to treat acne.

Comedone extractors

Many dermatologists have developed ways to extract comedones. There are publications on using paper clips,4,5safety pins,6 and medicine droppers,7 but some dermatologists have developed special comedone extractors, which include the following: Jay Schamberg, MD, developed a comedone extractor with a loop at each end. He disapproved of cutting a comedone, so did not include a needle or scalpel in his extractor.8

  • Leonard Savitt, MD,9 attached a scalpel to one end of the Schamberg extractor.
  • Alan Shalita, MD, developed a comedone extractor with a large, keyhole-shaped extracting orifice that made the tool easier to clean.10

The Saalfield comedone extractor combines a fixed pointed blade at one end and a small spoon-shaped expressor foot at the other end. (However, I have not been able to determine if Saalfield was a dermatologist.)


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