Cuticura, it’ll cure ya

(As far as I know, not actually used as an advertising slogan for any of the line of Cuticura skin care products — probably too jaunty and wise-cracking for the company, which seems to have been marketing primarily to women since 1865.)

From my 8/17 posting “The grocery order”: “When I was a boy, I applied Vaseline (from the family medicine cabinet) to minor burns and scrapes”. There was Vaseline — petroleum jelly — and then there was a curious patent medicine for somewhat more serious skin problems, a thick green ointment with an intriguing medicinal scent, then sold in glass jars: Cuticura ( /kjùtɪkjúrǝ/ ).

Now, having recovered this childhood memory, I got curious about Cuticura’s history — and its ingredients. Some of my findings (sketchy, because the company’s website is not at all forthcoming with details, and the Wikipedia entry is skeletal) …

It started with soap; from Wikipedia:

(#1) 1894 advertisement for Cuticura remedies from Good Housekeeping Magazine; In the price list, CUTICURA is pills, SOAP is ordinary soap, and RESOLVENT is resolvent soap, stronger soap that words by “dissolving dirt”

Cuticura soap, manufactured by the Potter Drug and Chemical company, is an antibacterial medicated soap in use since 1865.

The ointment (“for irritations of the skin and scalp”) was created in the early 1900s and originally marketed in tins, then in glass jars.

(#2) A tin from ca. 1950; jars from this era had the same labels on them as the tins, so this photo looks just like what I remember from my childhood (the rose geranium oil and vegetable chlorophyll were dropped in later formulations)

(#3) And then came tubes, and modern-looking labels

Ingredients. The early tins were quite reticent about listing contents. Over the years, the contents list expanded to become quite informative, no doubt spurred on by federal agencies in the US; and then there were occasional changes. But, basically, Cuticura ointment was — and still is — an omnium gatherum of substances reputed to be of aid in treating the skin, a kind of compendium of dermatological medicaments. See the list in (2), and now this one from a modern tube, with each ingredient identified by its intended function:

Cuticura disinfectant ointment (since 1865)

Uses: for temporary relief of pain and itching associated with minor burns, sun burn, minor cuts, scrapes, insect bites and minor skin irritations.

active ingredient: phenol 0.6% [antiseptic]

inactive ingredients: aloe vera [traditional treatment for sunburn and wounds]; annatto [as dye]; synthetic beeswax [skin protectant and humectant]; D&C Green #6; D&C Red #17; D&C Violet #2; isopropyl palmitate [moisturizer]; sulfur coloid [= precipitated sulfur in #2: common treatment for skin conditions, esp. acne]; mineral oil [moisturizer]; paraffin wax [skin softener]; white petrolatum [petroleum jelly: skin protectant]; pine oil [see below*]; 8-oxyquinoline base [antifungal marketed as antibacterial and antiseptic]; tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E) [when used topically, reputed to reduce inflammation and slow aging]

*pine oil: from the New Directions Aromatics site:

Used topically, Pine Essential Oil is reputed to soothe itchiness, inflammation, and dryness, control excessive perspiration, prevent fungal infections, protect minor abrasions from developing infections, slow the appearance of signs of aging, and enhance circulation.

But it doesn’t do windows. Or Windows.

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