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Paul Gerson Unna

Born  1850
Died  1929

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German dermatologist, born September 8, 1850, Hamburg; died January 29, 1929, Hamburg.

Biography of Paul Gerson Unna

Paul Gerson Unna was the son of a prominent local physician, Moritz Adolph Unna (born 1813), and on his mother’s side the family had a long tradition tradition of medicine. He commenced his medical studies at Heidelberg but joined the army in the Franco-Prussian War and was badly wounded. After the war, in 1871, he returned to studies at Heidelberg, then went on to Leipzig, before he completed his medical education in Strassburg.

Unna had problems with his thesis, which contained original and contentious proposals which drew intense criticism from von Recklinghausen. As a result it was rewritten and accepted in 1875, despite continued opposition from Friedrich Daniel von Recklinghausen (1833-1910). The thesis was on the histology and developmental history of the human epidermis. (Archiv für mikroskopische Anatomie, 1876, 12: 665). This dissertation made him a name and was the harbinger of his continual unconventional and original approaches. He then received further education at Vienna under the dermatologists Ferdinand von Hebra (1816-1880), Moriz Kaposi (1837-1902, and Heinrich Auspitz (1835-1886), before returning to Hamburg where he initially joined his father's private practice in general medicine, and worked at the St. Georg hospital.

Unna soon was able to concentrate on his particular field of interest, diseases of the skin. Already in 1881 he established a private skin clinic in Hamburg. This occasioned him to abandon general practice, and in 1884 he built a new institution in the Hamburg suburb Eimsbüttel. This institution soon attracted large numbers of student from Germany and abroad. He became titular professor in 1907 and in 1908 received a position as physician-in-chief at the Eppendorf Krankenhaus.

Unna described several skin diseases, he developed several new therapies, and in 1886 introduced ichtyol and resorcin in the treatment of skin disease. Unna conducted research on the biochemical processes of the skin, and discovered the Stratum granulosum in the skin. In 1894 he introduced slide projection as a method of skin examinations.

His classical book on histopathology from 1884 established him as one of the foremost dermatologists in the world. He described the plasma cell, and conducted extensive research hunting the agent causing soft chancre, work he continued after the agent had been found by Agosto Ducrey. It was in 1927 he described the disease that bears his name. He also devised several stains used for demonstrating fungus in smear preparations.

Harshly described as a pompous little man who seldom smiled, Unna had as many admirers as detractors, but his ability and standing cannot be doubted - since he held his own with German academics who would have been rated as possibly the most competitive of all time. He himself held no academic post until he in 1919, aged 68, was appointed the first professor – ordinary honorary professor – of dermatology at the University of Hamburg.


P. G. Unna was co-publisher of the Internationaler Atlas seltener Hautkrankheiten (Hamburg and Leipzig, 1889-1899), with H. von Hebra and O. Lassar he founded Monatshefte für praktische Dermatologie, now Dermatologische Wochenschrift.
  • Kuno Fischer und das Gewissen.
    Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft, 1875, IX.
    Referring to the German philosopher Kuno Fischer (1824–1907).
    In this paper, Unna attempted to explain various phenomena in a Darwinian context.
  • Anatomie der Haut. 1882. In Ziemssen’s Handbuch, XIV.
  • Entwicklungsgeschichte und Anatomie.
    In: Hugo Wilhelm von Ziemssen, et al: Handbuch der speciellen Pathologie und Therapie, volume 14, 1; Leipzig, 1883.
  • Eine neue Form medicamentosa Einverleibung.
    Fortschritte der Medizin, München, 1884, 2: 507-509.
    Unna introduced specially coated pills for local absorption in the intestine.
  • Die Entwicklung der Bakterienfärbung. Eine historisch-kritische Uebersicht.
    Offprint from Centralblatt fur Bakteriologie und Parasitenkunde, volume 3, 1888.
  • Drei Favusarten.
    Monatshefte für praktische Dermatologie, Hamburg, 1892, 14: 1-16.
  • Die Histopathologie der Hautkrankheiten.
    Berlin, A. Hirschwald, 1894.
    English translation by Sir Norman Walker in 1896.
    This monumental work is a landmark in dermatological history. The acne bacillus is for the first time described on page 357.

  • Allgemeine Therapie der Hautkrankheiten.
    Vienna, 1899; translated into French. 1898.
  • Dermatologische Studien.
  • Internationaler Atlas seltener Hautkrankheiten.
    With Morris, Ernest Henri Besnier, and Louis Adolphus Duhring.
  • Histologischer Atlas zur Pathologie der Haut. Hamburg and Leipzig, 1897-1910.
  • Die Diagnose und Behandlung der Hautkrankheiten durch den praktischen Arzt.
    Deutsche Klinik, volume 10, 2; Berlin and Vienna, 1905.
  • Ekzem. Handbuch der Hautkrankheiten, volume 2; Vienna, 1905.
  • Histotechnik der leprösen Haut. Hamburg, Leipzig, 1910.
    Unna was among the first to maintain that the lymphatics were involved in leprosy and that it was curable.
  • Die Bedeutung des sauerstoffs in der Färberei.
    With L. Golodetz. Dermatologische Studien, H. 20; Leipzig and Hamburg, 1912.
  • Biochemie der Haut. With L. Golodetz.
    Handbuch der Biochemie, supplementary volume; Jena, 1913. 105 pages.
  • Kriegsaphorismen eines Dermatologen. Berlin, 1916; 2nd edition, 1917.
  • Das seborrhoische Ekzem.
    With Ferdinand Winkler (1870-1936). Handbuch der Hautkrankheiten, volume 1, 2; Berlin, 1929.

  • P. G. Unnas Färbemethoden.
    With Paul Gerson Unna. Handbuch der Hautkrankheiten, volume 6, 1; Berlin, 1927.
  • Histochemie der Haut. Leipzig und Wien, Franz Deuticke, 1928. VI, 163 pages.
    This was probably Unna's last monograph. Various journal papers, unspecified:
  • Oberhaut und Anhangsgebilde. 1876, 1882, 1887.
  • Onychopathol. 1880.
  • Schweissekretion. 1882.
  • Fettfunction der Knäueldrüsen. 1882, 1894, 1898.
  • Mastzellen bei urticaria pigmentosa. 1885.
  • Elastisches Gewebe. 1886.
  • Ichtyol und Resorcin. 1886.
  • Lepra. 1886 to 1897.
  • Rosaniline und Pararosaniline. 1886.
  • Seborrhoisches Ekzem. 1887 to 1893.
  • Geschichte der Butuinfärbung. 1888.
  • Lupus. 1888 to 1897.
  • Lichen ruber, Lepra, Kinderekzem etc.
  • Duhring’sche Krankheit. 1889.
  • Plasmazellen. 1890 to 1893.
  • Parakeratosen. 1890.
  • Reifung der Farbstoffe. 1892.
  • Impetigines. 1892 to 1899.
  • Chemotaxis und Entzündung. 1893.
  • Diaskopie. 1893 to 1894.
  • Spezifische Färbungen aller einzelnen Hautelemente. 1893 to 1895.
  • Naevi. 1893 to 1897.
  • Lochkerne des Fettgewebes. 1895.
  • Degenerationen des Epithels und der Intracellularsubstanzen (Elaein etc.) 1895.
  • Vorlesungen über allgemeine Pathologie der Haut. 1892 to 1894.
We thank Rudolf Kleinert and Michael Eschmann, for information submitted.

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