The History of Sunscreen

Part 2 of our guide to sunscreen takes you on a historical journey from its origins of to the product we know it today.

Let’s step back in tanning time!

Since Sunscreen Records Began

Since the dark ages, there has been a need to hide from the sun. Ancient humans resorted to seeking shade or covering up with clothing, gloves, and hats to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun.

Although ancient cultures could not directly link overexposure of UV rays to skin cancer and other ailments, the sunburn that they received was probably a pretty big warning that it wasn't very good for them. 

There is evidence to suggest that Egyptians along with other early cultures even made attempts to create sun care lotions using ingredients like olive oil, rice extracts, and spices to create pastes, allowing them to continue to work and play during daylight hours. 

Egyptian women developed early sunscreen

Historically, dark tanned skin was associated with the lower classes who worked outside all day, whilst the rich had lighter skin thanks to a life relaxing indoors and under shade. This changed, however, due to the industrial revolution, forcing workers into factories and mines, living in close confinement in smog laden cities.

Ailments such as rickets and bone deformities caused by lack of UV at this time led British missionary Theobald Palm in 1890 to observe the nutritional benefits of sunlight on the skin. 

Still the world remained cautious of the sun and its effects until 1920 when Coco Chanel stepped off a friend's yacht in Cannes, France with a golden tan and changed everything. As the pictures spread throughout the magazines and posters all over the world, the tan began to be perceived as healthy and beautiful. The tanning craze was born.  

The Pioneers of Sunscreen

The first documented use of sunscreen was in the USA in 1928, although it took some entrepreneurial spirit from a young French chemist named Eugène Schueller, who was having some success in the hair dye market, to make sunscreen commercially available. The adoption of this product along with his hair care products were the building blocks of what is now the well-known brand, L’Oreal. 

Another major success story in the early sunscreen market occurred in 1938 when a Swiss chemist named Franz Greiter was badly sunburnt whilst mountain climbing in the Swiss Alps, inspiring him to create a protective formula which he called Gletscher Crème (Glacier Cream). Fittingly he decided to name his new suncare brand after the very mountain that started it all, Piz Buin. You may have heard of it. 

Historical picture of lady tanning


From the 1940s onward sunscreen formulas continued to be developed and improved upon with companies like Coppertone building on crude recipes developed by the military using petroleum jelly (yes you read that right) and mixing with coconut butter to produce their signature protection. 

A New Generation

Bell bottoms, disco and tie-dye reigned supreme in the 1970s but whilst you (or your parents) were out doing the hustle, scientists were working hard to develop the next generation of sunscreen, with Coppertone releasing the first waterproof formulas. 

Women walking on beach in bikinis

It was at this time that our mountaineer friend Greiter invented the Sun Protection Factor (SPF). His own glacier cream was considered to be SPF 2.

With the popularity of these formulas and growing concerns about the long term damage of UV radiation, the USA’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed sunscreens from a cosmetic to the much more regulated classification of over the counter drugs.  

During the 1980s, new findings stated that UVA radiation, previously thought to be harmless, was in fact damaging for the skin. In addition to this, it was shown that this damage could accelerate the aging of the skin, causing wrinkles and dark spots. This impacted the sunscreen market and in response, brands began to develop new broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) protection.

Sun protecting the skin 

The level of concern about exposure to the sun from scientists and governments continued to grow causing the American Academy of Dermatology to publish the statement in 1988 “There is no safe way to tan”. This was the first shift in the perception of tanning from fashionable to a health concern. 

A Race to the Top 

The 1990s was the development era of sunscreen as major brands competed to get the best products to market. They began to infuse sun protection ingredients into makeup and moisturisers for daily care whilst developing sports specific formulas with high factor protection and water resistance. 

Consumer tastes and needs began to develop, too. The new skin-savvy customer began to demand invisible, fast-drying, lightweight formulas prompting the development of many of the chemical UV filters, preservatives, and other ingredients that are still used today. 

In spite of the new concerns about the dangers, tanning didn’t go completely out of fashion with 90's icons slow-mo running on our TV screens, glamorising beach life, and inspiring the masses with their impossibly brown skin. 

Baywatch Pamela Anderson running


The Present

We have come a long way since olive oil and petroleum jelly and we can safely say that there have never been better or more options for sun protection available on the market. We understand the sun’s effects, plus the guidelines and product labeling have never been clearer. 

The tan is, as you know, still revered as healthy and beautiful in western culture but the biggest fashion faux pas you can carry with you on holiday is a sunburn. The biggest fool on the beach is the lobster.

After a number of years, however, it was clear the industry was in need of an overhaul. Many of the ingredients used today were developed decades ago and are at best outdated, at worst, bad for our health. The safety of some ingredients has been assumed from as far back as the late 70s.

Using sunscreen

During 2019, the FDA recognised this so they reviewed and then removed 14 out of 16 ingredients from the list of UV filters generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE). Two of which, PABA and trolamine salicylate, were deemed unsafe and therefore completely removed. Out of the remainder, 12 have insufficient safety data to be considered GRASE and therefore were removed for further testing. Two of the most common ingredients Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, for example, have been found in the urine and breast milk bringing their long term impact upon the human body into question. 

Out of 16 ingredients only 2 were generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE) - zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

This decision by the FDA demonstrates that the industry is outdated and it is time for innovation and development to ensure suncare products protect the skin but in the best way possible. 

The future

The public has never been more conscious of what they put on and in their bodies, and how those products are made from both an ethical and ecological standpoint. 

Sunscreen bottle in the sand

Europe has taken the lead in sunscreen development, with tighter regulations on the development and testing of sunscreens, and a wider selection of innovative UV filters and ingredients. This is resulting in new brands striving to advance the industry with better protection, and more luxurious and cleaner formulas than other parts of the world. 

In 2019 a new brand called Palm & Pine Skincare was born. 

We identified the opportunity available to us here in Europe, to develop a sunscreen that answered the concerns of the modern consumer and at the same time gave us the product that we just couldn’t find!

We believe we represent the future of sunscreen. Protection without pollution is our motto. No old-school, nasty ingredients. No nasty plastic waste. We represent a next-generation brand that is taking advantage of new, high-quality ingredients developed here in Europe, along with advancements in sustainable packaging. We're here to shake up an old industry that’s been left out in the sun too long and give customers a new, better choice for skin protection.

Palm & Pine Skincare

Whatever direction sunscreen development takes during the next 10 to 100 years one message will always ring true throughout ages, skin colours and countries - your skin is the biggest organ in your body and you only have one. Protect it and help others to protect theirs.

Want to be the first to own Palm & Pine?
You can preorder yours here!

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