Skip to content


Your cart is empty

Article: When was Sunscreen Invented – The History of Sunscreen

who invented sunscreen?

When was Sunscreen Invented – The History of Sunscreen

The depletion of the ozone layer has increased exposure to harmful UV rays. This has made us all more susceptible to sunburn, age spots, and even skin cancer. Finding a sunscreen that you will use daily has become more important than ever.

We tell you every vital detail about sunscreen, so you don’t have any trouble selecting the right sunscreen product.

Let’s start from the very beginning!

What Was Used Before Sunscreen?

Before the greatest invention of sunscreen, people still had to save their skin from burning to a crisp. As it turns out, some of the ingredients that were used hundreds of years ago are still components in modern sunscreens. But one should keep in mind that when people in previous centuries applied a paste of natural ingredients to their skin, they were applying a thick layer that was effective mostly because it was so thick. Today, we can rely on ingredients that are nearly invisible to the skin.

Most people used scarves or clothing items to avoid direct sun exposure. Rice, crushed jasmine petals, olive oil, sunflower oil, lupine, pine needles, mud, charcoal, cocoa butter, and burnt almond paste were some of the everyday things that were tried before sunscreen became commercially available.

The ancient Egyptians applied a thick coat of rice bran paste on their skin. In Polar regions, people carved tiny goggles or shields out of bone, wood, or leather to protect themselves from sun blindness.

Ancient Greeks would use Olive oil as sun protection. A report from Jama Dermatology stated that Native Americans would use a substance called tsuga Canadensis (pine needles) and sunflower oil to protect themselves from UV rays and treat sunburns. 

In Namibia, the Himba women coated their hair and skin in a reddish paste called otjize. It is made from blending butter, fat, and red ochre, and it not only protected them from sunburn but it also repelled deadly insects. 

During the 16th century in Western Europe, upper-class women wore visards, full face masks, to keep their skin smooth and blemish-free. These visards protected the whole face. They had no strings for attachment. Instead, wearers would clutch a bead or button in their teeth to stop visards from coming off. While in Ancient China, upper classes would order their servants to carry around parasols and silk umbrellas to protect them from sun rays and sun damage.

Burmese women created a golden-colored paste named Thanaka to shield themselves from sunburn. Thanaka is made from the bark of the Limonia acidissima tree. In Assyria, people constructed shades from palm fronds to take protection from the sun. Later, cotton, silk, leather, and paper were also used instead of palm fronds.

Scandinavians, also known as Vikings, drew thick eyeliners from charcoal to protect the eyes from harsh ultraviolet rays. They also painted their faces with antimony paste, burnt almonds, lead, oxidized copper, and ash.

Indian women may have been the first to use zinc oxide, which is one of the best sunscreen active ingredients available today! They first used it to treat wounds, but as zinc oxide doesn’t absorb in the skin, they also used it as a physical barrier between skin and the sun. 

In Southeast Asia, people dipped hats in water before wearing them to take shelter from the sun and heat. 

When Did We Start Using Sunscreen?

The history of sunscreen starts with a Swiss chemistry student suffering from sunburn while climbing Mount Piz Buin. After this incident, Franz Greiter sets out to block the UV rays from blistering the skin. 

After five years, in 1944, Benjamin Green, an airman, and pharmacist from Florida invented the first coppertone suntan cream, a greasy paste called “red vet pet” (red veterinary petrolatum). He used this paste to protect his and other soldiers’ skin from ultraviolet rays during World War II. This substance was heavy and unpleasant to apply, but it created an effective physical barrier from the sun.

In the 1940s, Mr. Greiter’s sunscreen hit the market sponsored by Piz Buin. He named his sunscreen Gletscher Crème (Glacier Cream). It has been updated since the 1940’s, but Glacier Cream is still on the market. Then in the 1970s, Piz Buin launched a new sunscreen line that protects from UVA and UVB rays. 

The demand for sunscreens reached France when L’oreal’s founder Eugène Schueller was inspired by the wave when he realized his oils weren't working and started creating his own brand of sunscreens.

In 1978, the FDA proposed that sunscreens need to be regulated to prevent the inclusion of harmful chemicals. However, testing the SPF rating (Sun Protection Factor) and labeling were the only strictly enforced guidelines.

In 1988, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first product to promise protection from UVA rays, and it contained avobenzone. Before this, every sunscreen only claimed protection from UVB rays.

In 1997, FDA permitted companies to market avobenzone in their products. Finally, in 2007, FDA established the UVA testing and labeling rules.

Now, FDA accepts new proposed rules and implements them if necessary.

When Did Sunscreen First Come Out To The Public?

For the first time, people were able to buy sunscreen in 1932. However, long before sunscreen made its appearance in America, it was a commonly used toiletry product in Australia. Milton Blake, a popular Australian chemist, created the first successful commercial sunscreen for his company Hamilton.

There are now thousands of sunscreen brands available worldwide. Brush On Block strives to create safe and healthy sunscreens that meet the sunscreen regulations around the world. It is also the main goal to make sunscreen products easy to apply and reapply.

Brush On Block products are made with 100% mineral active ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The full range is cruelty-free, gluten-free, vegan-friendly, reef-friendly, water-resistant up to 80 minutes, and family-friendly.

Brush on Block products are all-natural, unlike chemical sunscreens that are full of activities like oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, homosalate, avobenzone, and octisalate that absorb in the skin and can lead to more complications. All of the products offer broad-spectrum protection. 

When Did The FDA Approve Sunscreen?

The FDA began regulating sunscreen in 1978. This means that your sunscreen is an over-the-counter drug, just like Tylenol or cough medicine. Because of this, every sunscreen on the market should have a Drug Facts Panel for consumers to read. If you find sunscreen without a Drug Facts Panel, it is not FDA compliant and should be avoided.

Water-resistant sunscreens were invented in 1977 and the FDA only approved a few brands for using this label as they do not allow a product to call itself "waterproof" nor "sunblock". This is because no sunscreen is truly waterproof, and no sunscreen blocks 100% of UV rays.

The FDA also closely regulates what "active" ingredients (the ones that actually protect from the sun) are allowed to be used in sunscreens. So far, there are 16 approved active ingredients, but only two of those, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are what they call "GRASE" or generally recognized as safe and effective.

When Was SPF 50 Released?

In November 2012, the first SPF 50+ sunscreen was sold in Australia. The SPF number represents the number of times longer you can be in the sun when wearing sunscreen. For example, SPF 30 protects your skin 30 times longer than if you were not wearing sunscreen, and SPF 50 protects you 50 times longer from the sun. However, in reality, much depends on the intensity of the sunlight, how sensitive your skin is to the sun, and other things that may be on your body at the time. (Oils and lotions without sun protection could actually intensify the effects of the sun’s rays.)

A more accurate way to judge the protection is to look at how much UV light is filtered by the different SPF levels. SPF 30 blocks 96.7% of UV rays, while SPF 50 blocks 98%, so the difference is not as large as it might seem. SPF higher than SPF 50 have diminishing returns, as nothing blocks 100% of the rays.

Can Sunscreen Prevent Tanning?

The use of sunscreen doesn't completely prevent a suntan, but it will definitely slow it. One should remember, however, that any change in the color of the skin is actually the skin's response to damage, so if you are wanting to preserve your health and youthful looks, it is best to use suntan lotions and sprays (self-tanner) rather than the actual sun or a tanning bed.

Do We Really Need Sunscreen?

I hope you don’t belong to the population believing they don’t need broad-spectrum sunscreen. But, if you do, here are the reasons why you need to apply sunscreen every time you go out in the sun and make it a vital part of your everyday skincare routine.

  • Every suntan and sunburn damages the skin. This results in premature aging, skin cancer, and other skin issues.
  • UV rays destroy collagen, elastin, and healthy skin cells, causing premature aging and wrinkles.
  • Sun exposure damages the cell DNA, which is responsible for cell function. 
  • Repeated episodes of sunburn cause skin discoloration. Your skin develops gray or brown spots called sun spots or liver spots.
  • Skin can be easily irritated and break out in redness and inflammation due to sun rays. This situation is worse for people with skin problems such as psoriasis or rosacea.

Sunscreen protects your skin and prevents your skin from permanent damage. So, shop from Brush On Block’s line of  SPF 30 products and enjoy risk-free days in the sun.

Skin Cancer Danger for Different Skin Types

Your skin has some built-in sun protection. However, it varies between skin tones and colors. People with darker skin tones have a lower chance of sunburn but are still at risk of skin cancer.

Darker skin already has a high amount of natural pigmentation that blocks some harmful rays, however, skin cancer has a much higher death rate in people with darker skin tones, because it is not generally diagnosed as soon. If you have dark skin, you may not need to protect your skin from sunburn, but you should definitely protect it from skin cancer!

What Are UV Rays?

UV radiation is a natural form of energy emitted from the sun. UV rays have a short wavelength on the electromagnetic spectrum. Therefore, we are unable to see them, but our skin can feel their effects. There are two types of UV rays that reach us:

  • Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays
  • Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays

UVA rays have a longer wavelength and cause premature aging, and UVB rays have a shorter wavelength, causing skin burning. Therefore, both types of rays are dangerous for skin cells.

Why Do Different SPF Sunscreens Exist?

You might be confused looking at different SPF sunscreens in the supermarket. However, multiple SPF sunscreens exist for a reason. As different skin tones are more vulnerable to skin exposure, they need higher SPF for sun protection. Moreover, different SPF levels are appropriate for different types of weather. For example, you need 30+ SPF during summer, but may be able to get by with a lower SPF in rainy weather. 


  • Do we really need sunscreen?

Sunscreen is an effective and straightforward form of protection from the sun. It can help prevent sunburn, skin cancer, premature aging, wrinkles, skin discoloration, blisters, and skin inflammation.

  • Can sunscreen prevent skin cancer?

Regular use of sunscreen can reduce the risk of skin cancer as it prevents UVA and UVB rays from penetrating the skin cells. Constant use of 30+ SPF sunscreen can decrease the risk of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma development. 

  • What sunscreen should I use?

The best sunscreen is one that you will wear every day, which is why Brush On Block specializes in making products that fit your lifestyle and are easy to apply and reapply.

  • Can sunscreen prevent me from getting a tan?

Sunscreen lowers your chances of getting a tan, but you can still achieve a light tan after applying sunscreen. However, deliberate direct sunbathing or sunbed tanning is very harmful to your skin.

  • Do I tan more without sunscreen?

Not only do you tan more quickly without sunscreen, but you damage your skin cells more quickly as well. The only safe tan is a fake tan.

  • Why are UV lights so bad for us?

UV light is a natural form of light, but it is dangerous for us as it damages the skin cell DNA. This change causes them to grow abnormal skin cells, leading to different types of skin cancer. In addition, UV lights are more harmful now as the ozone layer is depleting and not providing us with enough protection.


Sun rays, also known as UV rays, can badly harm us, so it is wise to apply sunscreen every time you go out during daylight. If you are looking for an easy everyday sunscreen check out Brush On Block Mineral Sunscreen products.