The historical aspects of sunscreens

J Photochem Photobiol B. 2001 Nov 15;64(2-3):99-104. doi: 10.1016/s1011-1344(01)00202-0.


While there is little literature on the way in which people protected themselves against the sun, evidence from paintings suggest that clothing covering the body, veils and large brim hats were used by ancient Greeks, and that umbrellas existed in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and India. Veiel in 1887 (Vierteljahresschr. Derm. Syph. 14, 113-116) was able to protect a patient with eczema solare by the use of a tightly woven red veil. In 1889, Widmark (Uber den Einfluss des Lichtes auf die Haut. Hygiea, Festband #3, Samson and Wallin, Stockholm) used acidified quinine sulfate to absorb UVB, apparently because, since quinine fluoresces when irradiated with UVR, he rightly assumed that it would absorb the short wavelengths. In 1891, Hammer (Uber den Enfluss des Lichtes auf die Haut, Ferdinand Enke, Stuttgart) repeated Widmark's experiments and used quinine prepared in lotion or ointment as the first human sunscreen. Various plant extracts had been used at the turn of the century in folk medicine. One of the most effective was a chestnut extract from which aesculin was derived. Unna (Med. Klinik. 1911;7:454-456) developed several glycosides of aesculin,which were introduced as Zeozon and Ultrazeozon. In 1922, Eder and Freund (Wiener. Klin. Wchnschr. 35, 681-684) introduced 2-naphthol-6,8-disulfonic acid salts (Antilux) which were quite effective in both the UVB and UVA region. Over the next 40 years a number of different chemicals were introduced for sunscreen purposes: tannic acid (1925), benzyl salicylate (1931), para-aminobenzoic acid derivatives and 2-phenylimidazole derivatives (1942), anthranilic acid (1950), various cinnamates (1954), chloroquine (1962), benzophenones (1965) and many more since then. The list of chemical useful for sunscreen formulation is now extensive, the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Community have published compendia of approved chemicals and inorganic filters.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Drug Design
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Sunlight / adverse effects*
  • Sunscreening Agents / history*
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects


  • Sunscreening Agents