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May 01, 2020

Who invented sunscreen - image of girl on beach using SunButter

Believe it or not, sunscreen is actually a relatively new invention. Which seems strange considering the sun has been around for like, forever. What did people do before sunscreen? History tells us that ancient cultures used anything from mud, to rice bran, to olive oil, to zinc oxide. That’s right: the active ingredient used in physical sunscreens (like SunButter!) has been used as sunblock for thousands of years. 

Sunscreen as we know it today was only really invented last century. The evolution of sunscreen went a little like this.

Late 1920s — A South-Australian chemist by the name of H. A Milton Blake starts playing around with a sun-blocking cream. It’s not very good, but it’s a start. (After years of experimenting in his kitchen, he finally invents a sunscreen that works, and is still sold under the name Hamilton Sun and Skin).

1936 — L’Oreal founder Eugene Schuller develops his own version. Is sometimes credited as the man who invented sunscreen.

1938 — Franz Greiter, a Swiss chemistry student, gets sunburnt while climbing a mountain in Austria, of all places. He decides to create a sunscreen.

Who invented sunscreen - an old tin of Piz Buin suncream

1944 — Mid-war, another pharmacist called Benjamin Green creates a concoction he names Red Vet Pet (red veterinary petroleum) after noticing that his fellow soldiers are getting a little sunburnt. It’s nasty, sticky red stuff that no one likes.

Post-war — Benjamin Green goes back to the drawing board and mixes Red Vet Pet with cocoa butter and coconut oil to make the much nicer Coppertone Suntan Cream. 

1946 — Remember old Greiter on the mountain? He hasn’t given up, and he’s now created Gletscher Crème, which is sold under the name Piz Buin and which you can still buy today. 

1962 — Greiter comes up with SPF ratings so sunscreens can be standardised. 

Who invented sunscreen - 1960s beach image


1970s — Piz Buin ups its game by introducing UVA and UVB filters. SPF starts at two and only goes up to 15.

1977 — Water-resistant sunscreens hit the shelves. 

1980s — Scientists figure out that UVB is the main culprit in skin cancer, while UVA is the side kick. Also, in true ‘80s fashion, people start inventing zincs in all the colours of the rainbow. 

Who invented sunscreen - boy on beach wearing colourful zinc

1990s — After focusing on UVB for a while, suncare developers start to tackle UVA after Australian studies find that that people are still getting skin cancer. There is a swathe of new, chemical-heavy formulas that people like because they’re thinner than the old zinc formulas.

2003Invisible Zinc launches with a zinc that actually goes on clear, kicking off a physical sunscreen renaissance that won’t properly get going for another few years

2007 — Three surfers in Bali get together and combine cacao, coconut, beeswax, vanilla bean, coffee extract, castor oil and zinc oxide to create Surfyogis “surfscreen zinc” — a natural, reef safe surf zinc.

2009 — Inspired by Mayan chocolate masks, Surfmud zinc is created by surfers on Australia’s Sunshine Coast.

2016 — Two marine biologists make history by launching SunButter: Australia’s first reef safe sunscreen in a tin! (Browse our latest collection here). 

Who invented sunscreen - girl holding tin of SunButter sunscreen

Last few years — “Natural” sunscreens are being invented left, right and centre. Some are zinc-based but contain nanosized zinc or nasty chemicals. Many are packaged in plastic. To figure out how to navigate the world of natural and reef safe sunscreens, read our ultimate guide to reef safe sunscreens and ingredients to avoid.

Who invented sunscreen - a hand holding an open tin of SunButter sunscreen

Shop SunButter natural reef-safe SPF50 sunscreen here