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Artifact Friday: Sunburn Prevention

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Skin is sensitive and as we approach the sunnier seasons an important subject is sunscreen. While the history of protecting one’s skin from the sun has existed since the Ancient Egyptians used jasmine, rice bran, or lupine extracts, it was the late 1800s when the negative effects of prolonged exposure to the sun were being realized. Sunblock began to be developed to protect skin against the sun’s ultraviolet rays after the discoveries. The Army Air Force conducted an investigation into protective substances to prevent sunburn in 1942. They concluded that dark red veterinary petroleum possessed all the qualities they needed, waterproof, not toxic, and inexpensive. Then in 1944 airman and pharmacist, Benjamin Green created the first form of sunscreen after getting burned while flying. He used a greasy substance called Red Vet Pet to protect himself and other soldiers throughout the second world war. The substance is heavy and unpleasant on the skin acting as a physical barrier between the skin and the sun. To appeal to the public he adds cocoa butter and coconut oil creating a Coppertone suntan lotion. The adorable Coppertone girl was designed in 1956 and the Coppertone cutie was a real-life 3-year-old girl named Cheri who posed for her mom, Joyce Ballantyne, to draw her.

A Swiss chemist named Franz Greiter developed a sunscreen brand called Piz Buin in 1946 in honor of the mountain he climbed that he got sunburned on which inspired him to create sunblock. By 1962, Greiter is credited with developing the first sun protection factor (SPF) in sunblock, and in 1967 water resistance sunblocks were being introduced. The 1990s produced sunscreen products were expected to have some SPF ranging from 15-30. A study published in 2008 about the harmful effects of certain ingredients in sunscreen bleaching coral brought the banning of certain sunscreens. Hawaii was the first state to pass a bill banning sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in 2018. Protecting your skin from the sun is vital and the US Army Air Force was the first to begin the greasy sunblock we know today. They may not have created the most UV blocking one but they inspired others to follow.

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