10 Pre-Sunscreen Methods for Dealing with the Sun
As the weather heats up, we’re all slathering and spraying on more sunscreen. While applying that SPF-30 at regular intervals may seem like a chore, a quick look at the ways we protected ourselves from UV rays before the advent of modern sunscreen will make you thankful that all you need to stay safe is a friend to do your back.
1. Jasmine and Rice
Ancient Egyptians prioritized light and fair skin as a symbol of beauty, so they needed protection; the oldest reference to skin care and sun protection can be found on their papyrus scrolls and tomb walls. Interestingly, some of the compounds they used really work: Rice bran actually contains UV-absorbing gamma oryzanol, and jasmine can help repair damaged DNA.
2. Olive oil
Ancient Greeks wore veils and large brimmed hats to evade the sun, and also rubbed olive oil on their skin as a line of defense. Of course, that did absolutely nothing in the way of protection, but it did make their skin very soft.
Also known as native hemlock, the extract from this coniferous tree was used by some Native Americans as a dye and mixed with deerfat to create a salve to treat sunburns.
Otto Veiel of Austria published one of the first reports of a substance protecting skin from ultraviolet rays in 1878. However, since tannin is a yellow/brown organic substance made from plant tissue (much like tsuga), it stained the skin darker—a side effect many were trying to avoid.
5. Zinc Oxide
Zinc oxide paste, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays of ultraviolet light, has been used for hundreds of years. But because it's not easily absorbed into the skin, its popularity has waned with anyone who doesn’t want to look like one of those comical tourists with a painted white nose. It has made a comeback in recent years as a nanoparticle in certain sunscreens, though, because even though it makes you look funny, it works really well.
The name may sound futuristic, but this is a sun protectant that dates back to 1910. Zeozon was derived from horse chestnut tree extract and marketed as a way to avoid both sunburns and freckles. However, it was quite pasty and therefore not very popular.
7. Milton Blake’s compound
One of the first usable sunscreens came from Australia. Milton Blake invented a compound for sunburn cream in his kitchen in the 1920s. After 12 years of experimentation in his apartment, Blake began producing and selling the cream through his company Hamilton Laboratories. Blake’s descendants still run the company and market sunscreens.
8. Ambre Solaire
This product was developed in 1935 as a tanning oil by French chemist named Eugene Schueller, who is better known as the founder of one of the world’s leading beauty companies: L’Oreal. Ambre Solaire contained a sun filter and claimed “Tanning five times faster without burning!” It can still be bought today.
9. Glacier Cream
Despite the previously mentioned oils and pasty balms, Swiss chemist Franz Greiter has been credited with finding the first modern sunscreen, Gletscher Creme or Glacier Cream. He got quite sunburned during a 1938 climb of Mount Piz Buin and decided an effective protection against the sun was needed; he later named his company after the mountain. Although it was effective in 1946, it's estimated that the first Glacier Cream had an SPF of only 2. More effective variations of Glacier Cream are sold today and claim “cutting edge sun protection with luxurious skincare for anyone who wants to enjoy life in the sun.”
10. Red Vet Pet
During World War II, airman Benjamin Green wanted protection from the sun during his missions, and this unfortunately named substance was the concoction he whipped up. Red Vet Pet was short for “red veterinary petrolatum (petroleum jelly),” a heavy, unpleasant red jelly. It was a great physical barrier and served its purpose in life raft emergency kits, but it was unpleasant to wear. Green tweaked the ingredients, added a little cocoa butter and coconut oil, and eventually invented Coppertone.