Think self-tanner was concocted by a George Hamilton look-alike with a chemistry set and a dream? In fact, in the mid-1950s, the active ingredient, dihydroxyacetone, was being given orally at the University of Cincinnati Children's Hospital to kids with glycogen storage disease, an inherited metabolic disorder. Researchers noticed that if the children spilled or threw up the liquid, the areas where it touched their skin darkened. A few decades—and many lab hours—later, self-tanners are a booming business. In 2009, according to the NPD Group, Americans spent more than $800 million on them in department stores alone. Here's how three other beauty products achieved stardom from unlikely beginnings.
Researchers at the drug company Allergan were testing its Lumigan eye drops for treating glaucoma, in the 1990s, when they noticed that patients were growing longer, thicker lashes.
The company began development on a product that contained the same active ingredient but could be used for cosmetic purposes; Latisse became available in 2009.
Over dinner one night in 1987, Vancouver ophthalmologist Jean Carruthers told her dermatologist husband, Alastair Carruthers, that she suspected the botulinum toxin she was using in her practice to calm spastic eye muscles could also erase wrinkles.
Fifteen years later, Botox was FDA approved to treat frown lines; in 2009 it was injected as a wrinkle eraser almost five million times.
In the 1980s, hypertension patients taking minoxidil pills to dilate their blood vessels began sprouting extra hair on their heads...and arms, chests, and backs.
Over the next several years, studies showed that a topical minoxidil solution applied to the scalp could reverse baldness. Under the brand name Rogaine, minoxidil was launched as a prescription hair-growth treatment in 1988 and became available over the counter eight years later.
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