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The History of Sunscreen

Sunscreen nowadays is a necessity when it comes to spending long hours in the sun. This is especially true if you plan on going swimming, as your skin, especially if light, can burn much more easily. Sunburns can have some pretty harmful effects on the body in both the short as well as the long term. However, how did sunscreen come about?

How old is the idea of sunscreen?

The history of this wonderful product goes back millennia. Ancient Egyptians had a very antiquated version of sunscreen that actually seemed to work. As Egyptians considered fair skin a source of beauty, shielding that skin from the sun became a necessity.

In order the combat the sun’s rays, they would put on a lotion of rice mixed with the flower of the Jasmine plant. The rice contains a UV-absorbing gamma oryzanol, which prevents the skin from tanning. Jasmine is believed to help repair damaged DNA, which helps protect against the DNA-harming effects of the sun.

The Egyptians were not the only ones either, as the Greeks got into the notion themselves. While they mostly covered up in long sleeves and large hats to avoid the sun, they also slathered their bodies in a coating of olive oil. While the oil itself did almost nothing to protect against UV rays, it helped to moisturize the skin. Doing this also helped to repair the skin from sun damage, and is still a practice done by many Greeks to this very day.

The Romans used a special type of awning called “velarium” that stretched on top of seating area of Colosseum to protect spectators. The “velarium” was a Roman sun-shade.

What about modern sunscreen?

Modern suntan lotion came onto the seen in the 1940’s, when a Swiss chemistry student by the name of Franz Greiter got a bad sunburn while climbing a mountain. He then went to create an effective sunscreen in order to prevent this from happening.

However, before he was able to complete his invention, an airman and pharmacist by the name of Benjamin Green beat him to it. While they previously used a thick substance called red veterinary petrolatum to block out the suns rays, he later mixed it with cocoa butter and coconut oil to create Coppertone.

Greiter did eventually come up with a sunscreen known as Gletscher Crème, which is still sold to this day. In 1978 is when the FDA decided to finally regulate sunscreens for effectiveness and safety.

Zinc Oxide has been readily used for hundreds of years as well, as the thick white paste blocked the suns rays from penetrating the skin. However, many people did not like this substance due to the white marks it left all over their face. As a result, it was dropped as soon as newer sunscreens came to market.

The long journey from sunburn to sunscreen lotion is fascinating and continuing in 21st century. A great way to know if you need sunscreen before you go out is by using UV index tracking mobile apps like UVI Mate. That way you can know when to put on sunscreen to help protect against the harmful effects of the sun’s rays.

Alex Ershov, Founder of OpenUV