There are certain beauty products that hold space in our childhood memories. Whether you knew it as a multitasking cleanser and cold cream that first became iconic in the 1950s, or you associate it forever with the fresh face of Rebecca Gayheart circa early '90s, Noxzema is one of those classics. For generations, the cobalt blue jar full of thick, white cream was probably in every American household.
Noxzema was initially developed in the early 20th century by a Maryland doctor named Francis J. Townsend; he called it Townsend R22 and prescribed it to tourists as a sunburn treatment. In an attempt to broaden his market, he gave the formula for his balm to pharmacist George Avery Bunting, who ended up being better known as the product's inventor when he rebranded it as Dr. Bunting's Sunburn Remedy.
The remedy turned out to be beneficial also for itchiness and another irritating skin issue: eczema. As one story has it, a customer claimed that the cream "knocked out" his eczema. And so its new moniker was coined: Noxzema. (The name was a portmanteau of "no eczema," but it was also a play on the customer’s words—knocks-zema.)
In the '50s the product started being marketed as a skin cleanser and cold cream. Legend has it that this happened after a company secretary noticed how beautiful it made her complexion look. Eventually, it also became well known as a blemish-clearing treatment.
Decades later, we have to ask: Is Noxzema ($4) good or bad for your skin? Let's take a dive into the ingredients, shall we? Keep scrolling to find out if this product lives up to its original hype.
Made by distilling the bark and wood of the camphor tree, this key ingredient decreases inflammation and reduces pain topically, according to Dr. Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC. No wonder it's often found in products for cold sores, insect bites, and minor skin burns. Camphor has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat acne and pimples because of its anti-inflammatory properties. It's also thought to be a good ingredient for eczema because it reduces redness, itching, and irritation. However, the manufacturer (Unilever) states that the product has not been tested as a treatment for eczema, and they don't make this claim.
"Similar to peppermint, menthol has a cooling sensation when applied topically to skin," says Nazarian. It's often used in after-sun creams to relieve pain, and in lip balms and glosses to give a plumping effect, as it improves blood flow. Menthol can be derived from peppermint or eucalyptus plants, but it's also frequently synthetically made.
There are a few ingredients in Noxzema that may cause irritation (especially to sensitive skin), such as propylene glycol and parabens. "It also contains fragrance, which can be irritating to already inflamed acne lesions," Nazarian says. To be on the safe side, avoid applying the product to broken, inflamed, or highly reactive skin.
So, Is It Good or Bad?
"The short answer is that although this product may improve and calm some acne types, it’s best used in conjunction with other treatments better suited to cover all acne, including blackheads and whiteheads," Nazarian says.
"Acne can be inflammatory for many people and also involves specific bacteria as part of the source. Because this product contains gentle barrier repair ingredients, which improve skin hydration and decrease bacteria, theoretically they could help improve acne. However, many acne lesions are triggered by a buildup of skin cells and oil and require an ingredient to regulate the dead skin cells and oil production; this product doesn’t have an ingredient that addresses this."
All in all, Nazarian says Noxzema is unlikely to make acne worse. So, if you like the cooling, tingling sensation it gives, and you notice improvement in your skin with this product, carry on.