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The History of Sunscreen

by kelly / April, 6 2016 01:30

Sunscreen dates all the way back to the Egyptians. Can you believe it? Granted sunblock was very different back then. However one thing remained the same over thousands of years, the purpose of sunscreen - to protect the skin from the sun.

Ancient Times

There are records of Egyptians, Ancient Greeks and Native Americans all using some form of sun protection. While the ancient cultures did not understand the science behind UV rays and sun damage, they did understand tanning and sunburns. It's pretty amazing they found ingredients to protect their skin and soothe burns. I guess it's just human nature and pain is pain - we all want something to prevent and heal burns! 

Egyptians, to prevent their skin from tanning, used a concoction of rice bran, jasmine and lupine. According to research today - rice bran can absorb UV light, jasmine helps repair DNA and lupine lightens skin. Ancient Greeks employed olive oil for sun protection and Native Americans used a type of pine needle to soothe sunburns.

Let me just add I would not recommend using the above ingredients in place of modern sunscreens. The sunscreens we have today are very effective, regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration for safety and effectiveness, and making sunscreen is simply difficult without the proper (and very expensive) equipment.

Modern Times

Johann Wilhelm Ritter discovered UV rays way back in 1801. Wouldn’t it be cool to discover something invisible to the naked eye?! Then in 1878, Otto Veiel found the first scientific form of protection from UV light. This method used tannins, a compound found in plants, as sunblock.

In the 1920s the first commercial sunscreen was produced. In 1935 the founder of L'Oreal, Eugene Schueller, launched a sunscreen brand and afterwards many other companies developed sunscreens too. Finally in 1978 due to the growth of the sunscreen market the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stepped in to regulate sunblock and classify it as an over the counter (OTC) drug. Surprised that sunscreen is considered a drug? It does seem odd but many other common products, toothpaste and antiperspirant for example, are classified this way too.

As a result of the OTC classification, in the U.S. sunscreens must follow the FDA's sunscreen monograph which dictates things like labeling, ingredients, testing and manufacturing. For example there are currently 17 approved UV filters (15 chemicals and two minerals - zinc and titanium), sunscreen has to be made in an FDA certified and inspected facility, and sunscreen undergoes extensive testing to prove its SPF rating and broad spectrum (UVA & UVB) protection.

So there you have it - a quick little history lesson. Hope you enjoyed our walk in time. As you can see sun protection and sunscreen have always been a vital part of our lives.

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