When Did Suncreen Originate?

At least four different inventors created a type of sunscreen.

Sunscreen
Sunscreen. RTimages/Getty Images

Early civilizations used a variety of plant products to help protect the skin from sun damage. For example, ancient Greeks used olive oil for this purpose, and ancient Egyptians used extracts of rice, jasmine and lupine plants whose products are still used in skin care today. Zinc oxide paste has also been popular for skin protection for thousands of years.

But when it comes to the invention of actual sunscreen, at least four different inventors have been credited as being the first to invent the product.

Franz Greiter and Sunscreen

One of the first sunscreens was invented by chemist Franz Greiter in 1938. Greiter's sunscreen was called Gletscher Crème or Glacier Cream and had a sun protection factor (SPF) of 2. The formula for Glacier Cream was picked up by a company called Piz Buin, named after the place Greiter was sunburned and inspired to invent sunscreen in. Franz Greiter also invented the SPF in 1962.

SPF

Sunscreen labeling standards have been evolving in the United States since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first adopted the SPF calculation in 1978. The FDA issued a comprehensive set of rules in June 2011, taking effect in 2012–2013, designed to help consumers identify and select suitable sunscreen products offering protection from sunburn, early skin aging, and skin cancer.

The SPF rating is a measure of the fraction of sunburn-producing UV rays that reach the skin. For example, "SPF 15" means that 1/15th of the burning radiation will reach the skin, assuming sunscreen is applied evenly at a thick dosage of 2 milligrams per square centimeter.

A user can determine the effectiveness of a sunscreen "by multiplying the SPF factor by the length of time it takes for him or her to suffer a burn without sunscreen." So if a person develops a sunburn in 10 minutes when not wearing a sunscreen, the same person in the same intensity of sunlight will avoid sunburn for 150 minutes if wearing a sunscreen with an SPF of 15.

 Sunscreens with higher SPF do not last or remain effective on the skin any longer than lower SPF and must be continually reapplied as directed.

Benjamin Green and Sunscreen

One of the first popular sunscreen products was invented for the United States military by Florida airman and pharmacist Benjamin Green in 1944. The hazards of sun overexposure became apparent to soldiers in the Pacific tropics at the height of World War II. 

Green's patented sunscreen was called Red Vet Pet (for red veterinary petrolatum). It was a disagreeable red, sticky substance similar to petroleum jelly. His patent was bought by Coppertone who improved and commercialized the substance and sold it as "Coppertone Girl" and "Bain de Soleil" brands, in the early 1950s.

Other Inventors

In the early 1930s, South Australian chemist H.A. Milton Blake experimented to produce a sunburn cream. The founder of L'Oreal, chemist Eugene Schueller invented the first sunscreen in 1936.

Water-resistant sunscreens were introduced in 1977, and recent development efforts have focused on making sunscreen protection both longer-lasting and broader-spectrum, as well as more appealing to use.

In 1980, Coppertone developed the first UVA/UVB sunscreen.