Break out the swimming gear and the cooler full of cold drinks! The sun is shining, and it’s time to get outside and enjoy the weather. Don’t forget to grab a good bottle of sunscreen before you head out the door. You may end up looking like a lobster without it!

Sunscreen has been a summer must-have for years, but why is that even a thing? Who invented this lotion and why? It’s time to get the full story!

“Sunscreen is an essential part of any skincare regimen. Exposure to Vitamin D feels great, but without protection the sun’s rays can cause serious damage to your skin (and we’re not just talking about wrinkles).”

– Kathleen Walsh, writer for US Weekly

What is the Evolution of Sunscreen?

The sun has been around for billions of years, but sunscreen is relatively new. This timeline shows you the fascinating evolution, from rice and jasmine extracts in ancient Egypt to the sweet-smelling lotions and sprays we use today!

  • 3100 BC

    https://www.ancient.eu/Field_of_Reeds/

    Ancient Egyptians used rice, jasmine, and lupine extracts to protect their skin from the sun. Other ancient civilizations followed with their own natural remedies, such as the olive oil used by Greeks and the pine needles or sunflower oil used by Native Americans.

  • 1801

    Ultraviolet rays, or UV rays, were discovered by a German scientist named Johann Ritter. His discovery made it possible to really understand how sunburns occurred. Sunscreen makers could then use this information to refine their formulas for optimal protection.

  • 1932

    https://www.hamiltonsunandskin.com.au/sun-care

    Before sunscreen came to the United States, it was a popular toiletry item in Australia. A chemist named Milton Blake created the first successful commercial sunscreens for a company called Hamilton, using financial funding from his friends and family. You can still buy this line of sunscreens today!

  • 1936

    Sunscreen started making waves in France. Eugène Schueller, the founder of L’Oreal, was on his boat when he discovered that the oils he brought along weren’t actually working. This inspired him to create his own brand of sunscreen instead.

  • 1938

    https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/64312/10-pre-sunscreen-methods-dealing-sun

    Franz Grieter, a student in Switzerland, is often credited as being the inventor of sunscreen. He was inspired to create a lotion called “Glacier Cream” after getting severely burned while climbing a mountain. It only had an SPF 2 rating!

  • 1944

    https://www.coppertone.com/

    Coppertone was started by Benjamin Green in Florida. His original formula contained a substance called red veterinary petroleum, or Red Vet Pet for short. This sunscreen was kept in life boats and tanks for use by soldiers during World War II.

  • 1953

    https://www.pinterest.com/pin/309270699396106827/

    As sunscreen was still a relatively new product, Coppertone had to work some marketing magic to get their name out there. This came in the form of the “Coppertone Girl,” a mascot that went on to become an advertising icon.

  • 1969

    https://www.target.com

    Hawaiian Tropic started in Ron Rice’s garage in Murray, Kentucky. He was inspired to create a nice, fragrant sunscreen after going on vacation in Hawaii and seeing the locals use coconut oil to protect their skin.

  • 1977

    https://www.neutrogena.com

    Water-resistant sunscreen was invented. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a few brands with this label, though the sunscreen is only water-resistant for 40 to 80 minutes before it has to be reapplied.

  • 1978

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/2014/03/20/be85a288-a9fc-11e3-9e82-8064fcd31b5b_story.html

    The FDA started to require all sunscreens to be labeled with an SPF rating. This rule was made with consumer safety in mind and is now an important part of sunscreen shopping.

  • 1980s

    https://marketresearch.biz/report/zinc-oxide-market/

    Zinc oxide became a popular ingredient in sunscreen lotions. This mineral is not only good for sun protection, but also for diaper rash, chapped skin, and other skin irritations. It’s an important part of what is now referred to as “mineral sunscreens.”

  • 1985

    https://www.amazon.com/BullFrog-Land-Sport-Quik-Sunscreen/dp/B004NWMASQ

    BullFrog Sunscreen started in California. This brand is super popular with athletes as it’s non-greasy and lightweight. It’s also made with a quick-drying gel that’s great for those who are always on the move.

  • 1986

    https://www.beautylish.com/a/vxnzq/history-of-spf

    A company called Zinka made a sunblock called “Nosecoat,” which came in shades of hot pink, teal, yellow, and other bright colors. This was swiped across the nose to eliminate sun glare and became extremely popular with lifeguards and surfers.

  • 1988

    http://www.thecosmeticchemist.com/molecule_of_the_week/avobenzone.html

    A very important ingredient called avobenzone was added to sunscreens. This helps protect your skin from not only UVB rays, but from UVA rays as well.

  • 1992

    https://www.amazon.com/Banana-Boat-Performance-Sunscreens-Technology/dp/B0030ZEGDY

    Banana Boat was started by a former lifeguard in Miami Beach named Robert Bell. The brand prides itself on offering sunscreens with a pleasant smell, a high SPF, and a variety of lotions and sprays.

  • 1995

    https://www.californiababy.com

    California Kids was started by Jessica Iclisoy when she was pregnant with her first child! She wanted to come out with a brand of sunscreen that was sensitive and safe enough for babies and small children.

  • 2007

    https://www.sephora.com/product/supergoop-glowscreen-sunscreen-spf-40-P456218

    Supergoop! was started by Holly Thaggard, an entrepreneur in Dallas, Texas. She was inspired to create a sunscreen that kids could use during recess at school. Supergoop! is now sold at popular stores like Sephora and Nordstrom.

  • 2018

    Hawaii banned the use of sunscreens that have chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate as they’re harmful to coral reefs and other marine life. Manufacturers are still exploring ingredients that keep our skin protected without hurting the planet.

  • 2019

    https://marketresearch.biz/report/zinc-oxide-market/

    Sunburn Alert makes a series of adorable press-on stickers and wristbands that let you know when it’s time to reapply your sunscreen. The products change colors in the sun and come in fun kid-friendly shapes like turtles and fish.

  • 2020

    https://www.colorescience.com

    Colorscience Brush-On Shield is a powder sunscreen that works simultaneously as a makeup and sunscreen. It’s made from natural ingredients and adds shimmer to your cheekbones, all while protecting your face from the sun.

  • 2020

    https://www.uppermichiganssource.com/content/news/Add-a-sunscreen-dispenser-to-your-events-426598281.html

    Just Believe, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting melanoma, set up a sunscreen dispenser in a Michigan park. To date, this company has installed more than 100 dispensers across the Upper Peninsula.

How Did People Survive Before Sunscreen?

Our ancient ancestors spent plenty of time outdoors, which meant a lot of exposure to the sun. These early humans had to be creative and use the resources around them in order to avoid sunburns and blisters.

The following items were used for sun protection before sunscreen was invented:

  • Rice, jasmine, and lupine
  • Pine needles
  • Sunflower oil
  • Parasols
  • Olive oil
  • Awnings
  • Sunglasses

Rice, Jasmine & Lupine

In this day of cozy office jobs, it might seem crazy to think about working all day in the fields, but that was the way of the ancient Egyptians. They would use their crops and plants for not just food and currency, but also sun protection. Natural crops like rice, and plants like jasmine and lupine were the most commonly used.

Pine Needles

A report by Jama Dermatology found that some Native American tribes used a substance called tsuga canadensis, or pine needles, to protect their skin from the sun. These plants were also used by healers to help treat bad sunburns.

Sunflower Oil

Native American tribes used sunflower oil to protect their skin from UV rays. This antioxidant is high in vitamin E and is found to have a moisturizing effect on the skin. Sunflower oil is still used in modern brands of sunscreen and baby oil to this day!

Parasols

The ruling class in ancient China forced servants to protect them from the sun with parasols, which were early silk umbrellas that were decorated with flowers, birds, and landscapes. These umbrellas were seen as status symbols and could only be used by members of royal families.

Olive Oil

Today, you might use olive oil to make delicious pasta and stove-cooked popcorn. Back in ancient Greece, however, they would lather their skin in this cooking oil and use it as a sunblock. It did absolutely nothing to protect them, but it was at least a really good moisturizer!

Awnings

The sun has always been harmful and exposure could mean burns and blisters. The Romans took care of this by setting up awnings called “velariums” in public areas like the Colosseum. This sunshade protected fans as they watched the gladiators fight in the arena.

Sunglasses

Surprisingly, the first pairs of sunglasses were in stores about 20 years before sunscreen became popular in the United States. These stylish shades were invented by a man named Sam Foster who sold them on the beaches of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

https://www.pizbuin.com/

When Was Sunscreen Invented?

https://www.pizbuin.com/

The first commercially successful sunscreen in the United States was invented in 1938 by a Swiss student named Franz Grieter. He is also credited with the term “Sun Protection Factor,” better known as “SPF.”

Greiter was climbing an Appalachian mountain range when he was burnt to a crisp by the brutal UV rays. This experience was so memorably painful that he was inspired to create a sun-blocking lotion that he called “Glacier Cream.” This product, which only had an SPF 2 rating, was eventually bought and sold by a company called Piz Buin, a brand that’s still going strong to this day.

Sunscreen was super sticky and thick when it was first invented. Thankfully, the brands we use today rely on hydrating formulas that keep us feeling silky smooth!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sminor/24859985218

When Was Coppertone Sunscreen Invented?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sminor/24859985218

Coppertone sunscreen was invented in Florida in 1944. It was created by a pharmacist named Benjamin Green who designed it specifically for the U.S. military during World War II. Many soldiers were getting burned while stationed in the Pacific tropics.

The original Coppertone Suntan Cream was made with a substance called red veterinary petroleum, or Red Vet Pet for short. This ingredient was approved for use during the war by the American Medical Association (AMA) and helped sunscreen become part of the first aid kits found in life rafts and tanks.

Red Vet Pet did the job when it came to protecting soldiers, but eventually Coppertone wanted to get their product on the shelves for consumers. They made their lotion more marketable by mixing cocoa butter and coconut oil into the formula and by introducing an advertising icon to the world – the Coppertone Girl.

Today, Coppertone is one of the top suppliers of sunscreen, pulling in a cool $87.2 million in 2019. The Coppertone Girl has also inspired a legion of fans and merchandise made in her honor!

What Does SPF Mean?

The term “SPF” is often used in association with sunscreens. It stands for “Sun Protection Factor” and is the rating system used to measure which fraction of UV rays will reach your skin.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how SPF works!

If fractions weren’t your specialty in math class, here’s what you need to know. The higher the SPF rating, the less harmful UV radiation will reach your skin. Be sure to read the labels!

http://www.chicagonow.com/cubs-den/2013/08/got-time-time-to-wait-for-tomorrow-pads-3-cubs-2-in-15-innings/

Why Are Lifeguards Noses White?

http://www.chicagonow.com/cubs-den/2013/08/got-time-time-to-wait-for-tomorrow-pads-3-cubs-2-in-15-innings/

In the 1980s, a sunblock called Zinka hit the market and took over surfing culture. Athletes and outdoor lovers swore by this colorful sunscreen and would swipe it over their noses to block the light from the sun. It was made from zinc oxide paste, which was thick and left a visible mark on your face.

Zinka’s popularity with the younger crowd is what created the cliché of lifeguards noses being white. It was a trend that continued on into the rest of the decade, showing up in TV shows and movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

http://edgewell.com/brands/

When Was Banana Boat Sunscreen Invented?

http://edgewell.com/brands/

Banana Boat sunscreen was invented in 1992 by a former lifeguard in Miami Beach named Robert Bell. His formula includes a mixture of coconut, fruit, baby oil, and iodine.

Like many great entrepreneurs, Bell started his company while he was in college at Florida International University. He managed to totally raise the bar in the sunscreen industry with the introduction of SPF 23. Before then, only SPF 15 was available on the market, which is approved by the FDA but not nearly as strong as higher SPFs.

Banana Boat is one of the leading brands in sunscreen today. Their most popular products, including Sport Performance and Ultra Sport, made over $94 million in 2019.

May 27th is National Sunscreen Day! It’s that beautiful time of the year when the sun is burning hot, and you should make sure to wear the right SPF.

What Are the Most Popular Sunscreen Brands?

The sunscreen industry has really “heated up” from its early days. You’ll find many different options to choose from at stores, whether it’s a sporty spray for outdoor volleyball or a sweet coconut-scented lotion for your trip to Hawaii!

The most popular sunscreen brands include:

  • Coppertone
  • Banana Boat
  • Neutrogena
  • Hawaiian Tropic
  • L’Oreal
  • Supergoop!
  • California Kids
  • Aveeno
  • La Roche-Posay
  • BullFrog Sunscreen
  • Badger Organic
  • COOLA
  • Nivea
  • EltaMD
  • Blue Lizard

It’s up to you to shop around and make sure you’re choosing the best sunscreen for your skin type. Above all, make sure you’re applying 15 minutes before you head outside, and then reapplying every 2 hours. You can never be too careful when it comes to sun protection!

Why is Sunscreen Important?

Sunscreen is important because it protects your skin from all the damage that comes with exposure to the sun. This includes sunburns, blisters, wrinkles, sunspots, and in the worst cases, skin cancer. In fact, there are an estimated 100,350 new cases of melanoma every single year in the United States.

A good sunscreen with a high SPF is your best defense! We’ve come a long way since the rice extract, pine needles, and olive oil used by ancient civilizations. Get to the store and make sure you’re all stocked up for the entire year!

Stats for Success

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than 15% of men and 30% of women use sunscreen regularly when outside for longer than 1 hour.

The sunscreen industry is worth $1.85 billion.

People who use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day show 24% less skin aging than those who don’t use sunscreen.

The Bottom Line

You just soaked up a bunch of knowledge about sunscreen, and now it’s time to soak up the sun. Be sure to bust out some of these fun facts and use plenty of sunscreen at your next backyard barbeque or pool party!

References

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About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over four years of experience in the industry. She is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products and has had work published for the Promotional Products Association International and the Advertising Specialty Institute.