The History of SunscreenThe progression of the development of sunscreen as we know it

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In modern times it’s simply just been part of our standard day at the beach or park.

We whip on out the sunscreen and proceed to wrestle the kids trying to get them to stand still long enough to apply the sunscreen – all the while ignoring the whinging and whining that its ‘in their eyes’ and ‘it stings’… don’t they realise by this quick swipe across the face with a hand full of sunscreen, their eyeballs are now protected as well??! Of course this wasn’t the actual intention – but hey – what ever works right?!

The act of trying to preserve our skin from the harsh damage from the sun can date back to the Ancient Egyptians. It is claimed that according to recently translated papyri and tomb walls, that potions were used to ward off a tan and healed damaged skin.

It was then in 1928 that the first commercially available chemical sunscreen was produced. Now prepare yourself for a quick chemistry lesson – believe me – I’ll keep it simple. This first sunscreen was a combination of PABA benzyl salicylate (UV light absorber) and benzyl cinnamate (which is a fragrance ingredient). Sunscreens although available were not widely used back then.

In the early 1930’s a South Australian chemist (Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie oi oi oi!) called H A Milton Blake, produced a sunburn cream. Take a moment to run that name together. HA Milton … Hamilton Sunscreen – sound familiar? This was then refined by the founder of L’Oreal company Eugene Schueller who is often credited with the invention of the modern sunscreen which made its debut in 1936. Others believe Franz Greiter should be credited with the invention after he created a cream which he called ‘Glacier Cream’ after getting burnt mountain climbing.

A red jelly like substance was the next major progression of the sunscreen timeline going under the name of ‘Red Vet Pet’ in 1944. This was a veterinary petroleum-based jelly like substance, but being red – was not viable as a commercial product as it would stain fabric. The patent for this substance was bought by Coppertone who refined it and called it Coppertone Girl, a more consumer friendly product that was available in 1953.

In 1962, Franz Greiter re-emerged (surprise – he’s baaaack!!!) developing a way to measure a product’s ability to block ultraviolet rays, known as the Sun Protection Factor, or SPF. This eventually led to sun protection and sunscreen to become big business.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s it was considered healthy to be sporting a golden tan. Though the damage of unprotected sun exposure is something that those of us who worshipped the sun are dealing with now. Sunscreens during this time generally came with a SPF factor of 4 or 8, so protection against UV rays was relatively low.

In 1980 Coppertone developed the first UVA/UVB sunscreen which has now been on the market ever since under different names.

Currently on the sunscreen market you will find sunscreens with various SPF levels ranging up to SPF 50. In more recent times clothing companies have jumped on board the skin protection train with product clothing lines that are sold with SPF ratings.

The best way to protect your skin against damage from the sun is to apply and reapply sunscreen often. As the Cancer Council says – “Slip Slop Slap Seek and Slide”. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slop on a hat. (Admit it you were singing that in your head just then complete with the lisp!) The ‘seek’ is to seek shade and ‘slide’ on some sunglasses.

Enjoy the outdoors and stay protected!

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