The History of Sun Protection

By Elena Chaikin, Marketing Manager

Sun protection has been important to people for centuries. Many cultures developed their own methods to keep their skin from burning, from pastes and lotions derived from ingredients found in nature, to special clothing that warded off the sun. It’s fascinating to know how far we’ve come with sun protection, especially since nowadays, sunscreen is nearly invisible on the skin. Let’s take a walk through history.


Ancient Times

In 3100 – 300 BC, Egyptians used crops such as rice, jasmine and lupine (flowering stalks of purple flowers). They would combine the ingredients and use them as a thick paste over their skin. The mixture absorbed ultraviolet (UV) light. In 800 – 500 BC, the ancient Greeks used olive oil to protect their skin and also used it in their daily skin care routines.

The women of Namibia coated their hair and skin in red paste called Otijize to ward off the sun. The concoction was a mixture of butter, fat, and red ochre. Burmese women made their own invention called Thanaka, a golden paste from the bark of the Limonia acidisssima tree. It’s still used as sun protection today in modern Myanmar.

Native American tribes used sunflower oil and pine needles to protect their skin. In addition, these natural ingredients were used to treat bad sunburns. Vikings created a paste made out of burned almonds, lead, copper, and ash as sort of “eyeliner” to protect their eyes during battle.

What’s more, the first use of zinc, which is in modern day sunscreens today, was found to have been used as far back as 500 BC in India.



Clothing and accessories were very important to protect people from the sun as well. Parasols and silk umbrellas were popular in ancient China, especially among the higher classes. Also in Assyria, modern-day Iraq, parasols were made from palm tree leaves. In the 16th and 17th centuries, European women wore visards (velvet face masks) that kept the skin protected and preserved the beauty standard of smooth, pale skin.

Natives to the Polar Regions made goggles from leather, bone, or wood that would keep their eyes from getting snow blindness, as well as to keep out UV rays. Across Southeast Asia, people would wear conical leaf hats, and to this day they still do. In ancient Rome, sun protection was incorporated into architecture in the form of “velariums,” which were awnings. Velariums were constructed in public places like colosseums so that spectators could watch gladiators fight, chariot races, and other events.


Ultraviolet Rays

It wasn’t until 1801 that Johan Wilhem Ritter, a German chemist and physicist, discovered why the sun was so dangerous – not just because its light burned. It emitted ultraviolet radiation. The ozone layer is located in the stratosphere, and it can naturally absorb as much as 98% of the sun’s UV light.

Unfortunately, the thinning of this natural protective layer in the sky has caused ozone holes and increased levels of UV. So, it has become more important than ever to wear sunscreen in our daily lives. Let’s get into the difference between UVA and UVB rays.

There are two basic types of UV rays that reach us from the sun, UVA and UVB. UVB rays cause sunburn and can sometimes do much worse – cause skin cancer, particularly malignant melanoma. UVA works in tandem but penetrates the skin even further, causing skin aging and wrinkles.


Modern Sunscreens

Fortunately, you can protect yourself from the effects of the sun. Modern technology has given broad-spectrum sunscreens and even UV-blocking clothes, hats, and sunglasses. Let’s specifically talk about sunscreens. You can find them in many formulations and delivery types, whether in spray, stick, or cream forms. Whatever you decide to use, there is usually an SPF number on the front of the packaging. SPF stands for sun protection factor.

For example, SPF 30 would mean that it takes 30 times longer to burn under the sun as opposed to if you were not wearing any sunscreen. Broad spectrum means the sunscreen has ingredients within it to protect you against both UVA and UVB rays. Unfortunately, sunscreen cannot be waterproof, so reapplying it is key when outside, whether on the beach, poolside, or even while simply outdoors for extended periods of time. It’s important that the sunscreen you use has an SPF of at least 15.



Two Types of Sunscreens

Currently, there are two types of sunscreens: chemical (organic) and physical (inorganic). Both need to be applied evenly and uniformly onto the skin for protection before you go outside in the sun. It’s important to wait until the sunscreen is dry (about 15 minutes) to get the SPF protection on the label. Otherwise, there’s a chance that the sunscreen will move and transfer (onto clothes), or be swept away by makeup that you put over it, before it’s physically bound to your skin. After the sunscreen is dry, put your makeup on, clothes, swimsuits, and go enjoy the sun!

How the sunscreens work: Physical sunscreens allow UV rays to bounce off your skin. However, they are often thicker and known to leave a white cast on the skin, so they will be apparent on those with tanned or darker skin tones. In addition, because physical sunscreens are thick and heavy, those with oily skin may not like them.

Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays, converting them into energy before they can burn you. These types of sunscreens are great for the face, and spray bottle sunscreens are often chemical. While chemical sunscreens are more water resistant and can provide the greatest UV protection, sometimes they can irritate the skin, particularly in children or those who have skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea. Ultimately, the choice of sun protection is up to you.


FDA Approved Sunscreens

The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has approved 16 types of ingredients for sunscreens, but in the United States, most sunscreen manufacturers use 8 of those: avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide. Because the FDA classifies sunscreens as drugs, it is quite hard to have other ingredients (especially other types used in Europe and Asia) be approved.

Recently many of these ingredients are coming into disfavor with FDA. It turns out that many chemical sunscreen ingredients may absorb into the skin and possibly get into the bloodstream. Not to mention, Oxybenzone and Avobenzone are unfriendly to coral reefs. These can affect corals’ growth cycle, damage their DNA, and cause coral bleaching.

These ingredients can also hurt ocean life, such as fish, dolphins and whales, algae, and more, and cause problems like mutations and reproductive issues.

Unfortunately, the effects of sunscreen ingredients absorbing into your bloodstream are largely unknown. It calls for further testing to determine how safe chemical sunscreens really are, especially with chronic use.

This leaves us with the question: are there alternatives to the sunscreen ingredients currently allowed in the United States?


iActive™ Feruloyl Glycerides

Here is where we come in at Midwest Bioprocessing Center. We have developed an innovative proprietary ingredient for personal care use called FeruliShield™. FeruliShield is a UV stabilizer and antioxidant, which can be used on its own or in combination with approved sunscreens to enhance their properties by boosting SPF.

FeruliShield contains ferulic acid, which is known to possess powerful UV-protective and antioxidant properties due to its ability to form stabilized radicals when exposed to environmental oxidants or UV-radiation. Because of these properties, ferulic acid has found its way into numerous personal care products and is frequently combined with commonly used UV-sensitive ingredients, such as vitamin E and retinol.

FeruliShield combines the UV-stablization and antioxidant properties of ferulic acid with the formulation advantages of natural oils, such as soybean oil and coconut oil. The resulting products are stable, easy to formulate, lipophilic, and provide long-lasting protection from environmental damage. They also help maintain the efficacy of other active ingredients by protecting against photodegradation and can be used as an SPF booster.

FeruliShield can be added to many types of products, such as skincare (cleansers, serums, creams and lotions); sunscreens, of course; hair care (shampoos, conditioners, leave-in treatments, and masks); and even cosmetics (foundations, primers, settings sprays, etc.); allowing all of these potential products to shield you from the sun damage.

FeruliShield provides a sun-shielding alternative. Here at Midwest Bioprocessing Center, we are working to introduce our innovative cosmetic ingredients to products already on the market.


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