The History of Sunscreen
“Velarium” or Roman sun-shade
Sunscreen nowadays is a necessity when it comes to spending long hours in the
sun. This is especially true if you plan on going swimming, as your skin,
especially if light, can burn much more easily. Sunburns can have some pretty
harmful effects on the body in both the short as well as the long term. However,
how did sunscreen come about?
### How old is the idea of sunscreen?
The history of this wonderful product goes back millennia. Ancient Egyptians had
a very antiquated version of sunscreen that actually seemed to work. As
Egyptians considered fair skin a source of beauty, shielding that skin from the
sun became a necessity.
In order the combat the sun’s rays, they would put on a lotion of rice mixed
with the flower of the Jasmine plant. The rice contains a UV-absorbing gamma
oryzanol, which prevents the skin from tanning. Jasmine is believed to help
repair damaged DNA, which helps protect against the DNA-harming effects of the
The Egyptians were not the only ones either, as the Greeks got into the notion
themselves. While they mostly covered up in long sleeves and large hats to avoid
the sun, they also slathered their bodies in a coating of olive oil. While the
oil itself did almost nothing to protect against UV rays, it helped to
moisturize the skin. Doing this also helped to repair the skin from sun damage,
and is still a practice done by many Greeks to this very day.
The Romans used a special type of awning called “velarium” that stretched on top
of seating area of Colosseum to protect spectators. The “velarium” was a Roman
### What about modern sunscreen?
Modern suntan lotion came onto the seen in the 1940’s, when a Swiss chemistry
student by the name of Franz Greiter got a bad sunburn while climbing a
mountain. He then went to create an effective sunscreen in order to prevent this
However, before he was able to complete his invention, an airman and pharmacist
by the name of Benjamin Green beat him to it. While they previously used a thick
substance called red veterinary petrolatum to block out the suns rays, he later
mixed it with cocoa butter and coconut oil to create Coppertone.
Greiter did eventually come up with a sunscreen known as Gletscher Crème, which
is still sold to this day. In 1978 is when the FDA decided to finally regulate
sunscreens for effectiveness and safety.
Zinc Oxide has been readily used for hundreds of years as well, as the thick
white paste blocked the suns rays from penetrating the skin. However, many
people did not like this substance due to the white marks it left all over their
face. As a result, it was dropped as soon as newer sunscreens came to market.
The long journey from sunburn to sunscreen lotion is fascinating and continuing
in 21st century. A great way to know if you need sunscreen before you go out is
by using UV index tracking mobile apps like [UVI Mate](https://uvimate./). That
way you can know when to put on sunscreen to help protect against the harmful
effects of the sun’s rays.
Founder of UVIMate - Sun Safety Coach and UV Index Forecast app
Alex is a dedicated NodeJS/.NET technomad with 10 years of hands-on experience in digital media, e-government, telecommunications and print/mail production automatization areas. DevOps practitioner and energetic Knowledge Management evangelist.