Skip to content

    Recently Viewed


      Ask Margaret: Synol Soap Ad
      Ask Margaret: Synol Soap Ad

      Synol: The Johnson & Johnson soap made popular by silent film stars

      It’s National Healthy Skin Month, so we asked our in-house historian, Margaret Gurowitz, to give us the scoop on the company’s first soap, which had a cult following among starlets in the early 1900s.

      Share Article
      share to


      Johnson & Johnson is known for its iconic personal care products, like Johnson’s® Baby Shampoo. What was the first cleanser the company ever produced?


      Margaret Gurowitz, Chief Historian: In 1901, surgeons asked Johnson & Johnson to create an antiseptic soap they could use to scrub their hands before operating on patients—something that would be effective at killing germs, yet mild enough that it wouldn’t irritate their skin with repeated washing.

      The soap that the company invented—Synol—worked so well that Johnson & Johnson decided to market it for use outside of hospitals, too.

      Before long, the camphor-scented soap, which came in liquid and cake form, had a cult following among well-known Broadway and vaudeville actresses of the early 1900s, who used it to wash heavy theatrical makeup off their faces.

      In fact, starlets loved it so much that they even wrote to the company about it!

      Ask Margaret: Synol: Louise Dresser

      Image courtesy Johnson & Johnson archives

      The most famous of them was Louise Dresser, who appeared on Broadway and was one of the first-ever nominees for a best actress Academy Award for her role in A Ship Comes In.

      She wrote: “Upon the recommendation of my physician, I have been using Synol soap for the past year and … have recommended it to all of my friends as an absolute necessity. For the sake of humanity, I would suggest that you make known to the world the benefits that can be derived from this wonderful preparation.”

      Pretty dramatic, right?

      Although this was long before companies paid for celebrity endorsements, Johnson & Johnson’s scientific director at the time, Fred Kilmer, likely had a hunch that such rave reviews could help boost sales. So he printed letters like Dresser’s in the Red Cross Messenger, a publication distributed to pharmacists, because people typically purchased personal care products at their local pharmacies.

      The company ceased production of Synol in the 1950s, when a new generation of personal care products hit the market—but the soap certainly left a starring impression on beauty care.

      Look for another “Ask Margaret” next month. Tis the season of decadent holiday feasting, so we’ll be looking at how Johnson & Johnson helped pioneer indigestion treatments—in the late 1800s.

      When You’ve Been Innovating for Over 135 Years …

      Johnson & Johnson has a virtual museum where you can learn more fun facts about its rich history.

      More from Johnson & Johnson

      Health & wellness
      1123 BTN-Lung Cancer-Iede2.jpg
      Health & wellness

      By the numbers: Who gets lung cancer?

      Each year, more people die of lung cancer than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. Learn how Johnson & Johnson is dedicated to improving outcomes by integrating the company’s MedTech and Innovative Medicine expertise.
      Health & wellness
      Health & wellness

      Quiz: How much do you know about psoriasis?

      The chronic skin condition causes itchy and scaly patches, but it’s much more than simply a cosmetic concern. For World Psoriasis Day, take this quiz to test your psoriasis IQ—and learn why Johnson & Johnson is working on new and more effective treatments for this common autoimmune disease.
      Health & wellness
      What It's Like When Your Baby Has a Rare Blood Disorder-1023.jpg
      Health & wellness

      What it’s like when your baby has a rare blood disorder

      A condition called fetal and neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia (FNAIT) can be deadly in newborns. That’s why Johnson & Johnson is passionate about developing a treatment for the disorder.
      You are now leaving and going to a site with a different privacy policy. Please click below to continue to that site.