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Notable Notes
October 2017

Cleopatra and Sour Milk—The Ancient Practice of Chemical Peeling

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Dermatology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Dermatol. 2017;153(10):1006. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.3393

Chemical peels are one of the most commonly performed cosmetic procedures and have long been used for the treatment of disorders of pigmentation, acne, and fine rhytides. The procedure involves applying an exfoliating agent—such as an α-hydroxy acid (AHA)—to the skin to destroy the epidermis and/or dermis layer, which allows the skin to rejuvenate.1

Chemical peeling is a centuries-old practice, rooted in ancient Egyptian medicine and described in the Ebers Papyrus in 1550 bce.2 The Egyptians, and in particular Queen Cleopatra, were famously known to bathe in sour milk to improve the look and texture of the skin.3 Today, we know that sour milk contains lactic acid, a naturally occurring AHA. Other ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks and Romans, used corrosive agents, such as limestone, to achieve the same results.1