The History Of Sunscreen Is Older Than You Think

Sunscreen is the world’s most popular anti-ageing product, that protects against the harmful effects of sun exposure, reduces the risk of melanoma and protects against the leading cause of premature ageing.

Because of this and the fact that many sunscreens work with or act as a moisturiser, it is highly recommended for people to wear it even on cloudy days, with some suggestions that it may be worth wearing it during the winter months as well.

This advice is so commonplace that it became the basis of an essay that became a number-one hit song in the UK, but whilst sunscreens are not typically considered to be natural body products, there are many broad-spectrum products that provide effective protection from harmful ultraviolet rays.

However, whilst the first sunscreen was invented in 1932 and only became initially popular in the Second World War’s Pacific Theatre, the need for sunscreen has existed for thousands of years and for as long as there have been civilisations, there have been natural types of sunscreen, some far more effective than others.


The First Sunscreens

A lot of the earliest civilisations were based in areas close to the Equator that were especially warm, such as Greece, Egypt and the Levant, which meant that sun damage was a common consideration during dry and hot seasons.

Some of these have seen continued use to this day. Ancient Egypt, a civilisation that was amongst the first to have a written medicinal culture, used a concoction of jasmine, lupine plants and rice extract, all of which have seen some use in modern sunscreens alongside other products.

By contrast, the Ancient Greeks used olive oil, which is more commonly used today for cooking. Compared to the recommended SPF rating of 30 for protective sunscreens, olive oil has an SPF of just eight, which whilst higher than you might expect is also completely inadequate for protection.

As well as these, whilst being developed a few thousand years later, the Ancient Romans were amongst the first civilisations to use zinc oxide paste as a sunscreen.

Zinc oxide is used in a variety of different topical creams but it is also one of only two active ingredients approved by the US FDA for broad-spectrum sunscreens.


Other Notable Early Sunscreens

Aside from these, a lot of different cultures and groups had developed ways to shield themselves from the sun, aside from shades and keeping hydrated.

From the 11th century until the present day, people who live in the country of Myanmar wear a paste made from ground tree bark known as thanakha, which helps soften and clear skin, alongside its ability to protect it from the sun.

Because it is largely worn as a powder or paste, it is often applied artfully and decoratively on the face, becoming a part of cosmetic style in Burmese culture.

Similarly, alongside the sea-faring Sama-Bajau people based around the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, rice, spices and weeds are mixed together to create a yellowish powder known as burak that also helps to protect against sun exposure when out at sea.