The company was founded on March 28, 1882, by pharmacist Paul Carl Beiersdorf. In 1900, the new owner, Oscar Troplowitz, developed a water-in-oil emulsion as a skin cream with Eucerit, the first stable emulsion of its kind. This was the basis for Eucerin and, later, Nivea. Nivea comes from the Latin word niveus/nivea/niveum, meaning 'snow-white'.
During the 1930s, Beiersdorf began producing such products as tanning oils, shaving creams, shampoo and facial cleanser and toners. The trademark "Nivea" was expropriated in many countries following World War II. Beiersdorf completed buying back the confiscated trademark rights in 1997. During the 1980s, the Nivea brand expanded into a wider global market.