The History of Sunscreen

The History of Sunscreen

PSA: This is not your average history lesson. There will be no falling asleep (especially not under the sun) or notes passed in this class (unless they include how much you love Hello Sunday).

Whilst the sun has been around longer than we can fathom, protection from it has not, let alone insta worthy protection. If you’re here it’s probably because you’re intrigued as to how the world of sun care came to be. 

Let’s throw it back to the beginning, when the earliest of civilisations would make use of plants to protect their skin from sun damage. You had ancient Egyptians mixing their own potions and using olive oil (yikes!!!). Although, their go-to ingredient was rice bran which is actually still used today because of how well it absorbs UV rays, as it contains gamma oryzanol. Women in Namibia coating themselves in a red paste called otjize (a little combo of butter, fat and red ochre) to protect themselves from not just the sun but also insects. In India, you had people lathering up in zinc as it provided a physical barrier to the sun and to be fair to them, zinc is also still used today in sunscreen as it is an eco friendly ingredient.

Later on, if we fly over to Western Europe, it was actually trendy to be as pale as possible (APAP) so there was a massive emphasis on physical protection from the sun such as long sleeves, big hats, umbrellas, gloves, the LOT (btw - physical protection is still the best sun protection today). They also tended to avoid direct sunlight at all costs. 

Until around the 1920s, any sort of tan was seen as a sign of poverty, that your life was spent outside in enforced labour instead of inside grand palaces doing nothing but sipping tea and frolicking about the gardens followed by maids with umbrellas to ensure you were shaded from the sun at all times. There was a lot of pressure on women particularly to stay APAP if they wanted to be taken seriously in society and seen as a catch. That is until 1923, when one iconic French woman arrived back in France and changed the world forever. Well, the world of SPF forever.

After a sailing trip with friends, Coco Chanel arrived home with the reminisce of a burn in the form of a tan. This sun kissed glow sent the high society of Paris into a right whirlwind and eventually the word began to spread. Gone were the umbrellas and gloves up to your shoulders. Suddenly, a tan went from being a sign of outdoor labour to a sign of extreme wealth. Proof you could afford a holiday abroad. 

Fast forward a couple more years to the 1930s and you’ve got a couple of chemists who are working on sun protection creams which lead to the start of the sun care industry. In 1932, after 12 years of experimentation, aussie native, Milton Blake launched his Hamilton Sunscreen and in 1936, French chemist and L’Oreal founder, Eugène Schueller developed a commercial sunscreen. He launched the sun oil under the name ‘Ambre Solaire’ and everything from the bottle shape, to the luxe oil encompassed a vision of affluence and aspiration. There was also the release of an SPF 2, (Yes, 2 not 20, 2!) sunscreen called Glacier Cream from a chemist called Franz Greiter and this was what kicked off Piz Buin, a company that we still see today.

Another sunscreen solution that made a mark on the suncare industry is Red Vet Pet. Benjamin Green was an airman and pharmacist in Florida when he noticed the importance of sun protection after suffering a sun burn one too many times. More of a sun paste than a sunscreen, his concoction was effective, but it was also gross to wear. Nevertheless, with a couple more ingredients added (cocoa butter and coconut oil), he launched Coppertone. 

Through the 50s and 60s, there were quite a few sunscreens that came to market but they didn’t do much in terms of actual sun protection. Instead, they simply encouraged tanning without burning. However, due to their popularity, improvements were constantly being made to the level of protection and length of wear. In 1962, the SPF rating system was brought in and with it brought a lot more knowledge and understanding to the consumer about what was actually going into their suncare and what they should keep their eyes open for. 

It wasn’t until the 80s that the effects of ultraviolet rays were being more thoroughly tested. At this point, the emphasis on just how bad tanning is for you is starting to get pushed from all directions and the use of sunscreen is being viewed more as protection from the sun rather than a tan facilitator. These years also brought around the first ‘waterproof’ formulas although they have nothing on our water-resistant and sweat proof formulas!

Fast forward to now and we have more information than ever on just how important sunscreen is for your health. That doesn’t mean though that suncare has to be boring, in fact it’s our mission to make it anything but boring. Peep the cute packaging and fun formulas! We’re not even done yet, we’re constantly working on bringing even better formulas to you and making it easier than ever to integrate SPF into your daily life. So keep your eyes open, and shaded! 

Class dismissed!!!


  • Up until Coco Chanel showed off her accidental tan, the sun was avoided at all costs in order to exude a life of privilege and wealth
  • Having a sun kissed glow then became the ultimate trend with sunscreens popping up left right and center but being marketed as tan facilitators
  • The SPF rating system came to be in 1962 which provided more info to consumers about what was going on in their sunscreen followed by the 80s where the real effects of sun exposure came to light and 2021 where we came into the picture!!!