Skip to main content

The History of Sunscreen Explored

By May 12, 2016May 11th, 2023Skin Care

The need for sunscreen dates back to ancient times when the Egyptians were concocting various potions to protect and heal their skin from skin cancer. Among their discoveries was rice bran, from which gamma oryzanol is extracted today for its capabilities of absorbing ultraviolet rays.

Major Discoveries

By the 19th Century, scientists were making significant progress in assessing the impact of sunlight on human skin care. In 1801, Germany’s Johann Wilhelm Ritter discovered ultraviolet rays based on research by Sweden’s Carl Wilhelm Scheele. Twenty years later, England’s Everard Home proved that a greater presence of melanin in darker skin protected it by absorbing the sun’s ultraviolet rays (UVR).

Ultraviolet Rays

A century later, with the realization that human skin was protected by filtering out UV rays. Eugene Schueller of France brought the first commercially available sunscreen to the U.S. market. Comprised of PABA benzyl cinnamate and benzyl salicylate, its success inspired Schueller to launch the L’Oreal company.


In the 1940s, Miami pharmacist Benjamin Greene marketed a compound that was less effective than anticipated. He quickly developed a more popular formula he called Coppertone. By dampening the fears of sunburn, the product lured millions more to the beaches, lakes, and rivers.

Coppertone and Ultraviolet Rays

While the original version of Coppertone helped prevent sunburn, it did not provide sufficient protection against UV rays. And as the numbers of sunbathers increased, so too did the cases of skin cancer.

Birth of Billions

In 1962, Professor Franz Greiter of Austria developed a method of measuring a formula’s ability to block ultraviolet rays. Known as the Sun Protection Factor (SPF), it has since become the worldwide standard for measuring sunscreen effectiveness in skin care. In fact, Greiter’s breakthrough spurred a sun-protection market that generates more than $1.3 billion today.

Sunscreens and Sunblocks

Sunscreens typically use such benzophenones as oxybenzone, dibenzoyl methane, and other chemicals to protect the skin from various types of UV radiation. At the same, sunblocks depend on zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Sunblocks are generally considered to be free of chemicals and less likely to cause allergic reactions than sunscreen.

The Future of Sunscreen

Among primary goals is the development of a sunscreen pill. Much attention is devoted to astaxanthin, a substance found in red ocean animals, plants, and salmon. Astaxanthin cuts the pain and swelling of sunburn, and when combined with other measures, it provides significant skin care protection against UV rays. In fact, astaxanthin and various antioxidants are expected to produce the next major advances in sun protection.

To learn more about sun protection and skin care, contact us today.