Today, most people with white skin use sunscreens, at least, they should. These block sunburn-causing UVB rays and the best ones also protect against UVA rays, which can cause long-term sun damage.
Here Comes the Sun. Effective sunscreens were only invented in the 20th century. That’s probably because people didn’t sunbathe until the 1920s, before that, the fashion for pale skin meant that people kept out of the sun, unless they worked outside, in which case they had to resign themselves to being deeply unfashionable.
In the 1920s French fashion designer Coco Chanel came back from holiday with a suntan and started a fashion for foreign holidays and tanned skin, which became a symbol of wealth, just as pale skin had been in the past.
The sunbathers of the 1920s weren’t aware of the dangers and, if they applied anything to their skin, it was to help get a suntan and not to protect themselves.
In 1938 an Austrian chemistry student called by Franz Greiter, who had suffered bad sunburn climbing Piz Buin, developed a sunscreen with an SPF of 2. Eugene Schneller, founder of L’Oreal, was also inventing sun creams in the 1930s.
In 1944 Benjamin Greene invented a sticky red goo to protect Second World War soldiers from sunburn that he tested on his own bald head, it worked, but it wasn’t popular with sunbathers for obvious reasons. Now, very effective sunscreens are available that aren’t red and sticky.
Sun Protection Factor: Bottles of sunscreen all show an SPF number, which indicates the length of time you can stay in the sun without burning: if your skin burns after 10 minutes, using an SPF of 10 you can stay in the sun for 100 minutes.
Everyone should be well aware by now of the dangers of unprotected exposure to the Sun’s UV rays, but how much do we really know about that great burning ball in the sky?