Suntan lotion refers to a substance that, upon application to the skin, helps encourage the tanning process. It also can defend the skin against the destructive effects of the sun's rays with built-in ultraviolet protection, as does sunscreen, a different product. Skin protection products have origins in several different nations, including Australia, France and the United States. These products emerged in the 1930s and 1940s.

H.A. Milton Blake's Invention

While in the past people did not know as much about the hazards of the sun, sunburn was seen as a painful problem. In the beginning of the 1930s, a chemist from South Australia named H.A. Milton Blake, founder of Hamilton Laboratories, invented a cream specifically designed to help people's skin heal after spending significant time outdoors on hot, bright days. Milton's invention made the concept of sun protection products a reality.

Eugene Schueller's Contribution

Eugene Schueller was a French chemist and founder of L'Oreal, the famed international beauty powerhouse. An avid sailor, his pale-colored skin frequently experienced unpleasant sunburn when he was out on the water. To cope with the problem, Schueller requested that the employees of his cosmetics laboratories try to create a formula for it. In spring 1935, his employees finished an oil that consisted of defensive filters. When people applied this oil onto their skin, it prevented burning when out in the sun and it allowed them to tan as well. By 1936, people were able to purchase the product, called "Ambre Solaire," at stores in France.

Benjamin Green's Innovation

The concept of suntan lotion made a major splash in the United States almost a decade later. In 1944, a Miami-based chemist and pharmacist named Benjamin Green created a suntan lotion -- one that was eventually named "Coppertone." Green developed his lotion by blending cocoa butter formulations together in his kitchen at home. To give the lotion a pleasant scent, he added a touch of jasmine. Promotion of the product stressed the concept of tanning, enticing buyers by stating that they could achieve attractive tans, no matter how fair their complexion.

Green's objective while working on the product wasn't to help beachgoers get flawless tans without burning. It was to assist American soldiers who were working in the South Pacific in World War II. Since the soldiers spent so much time in the sun, their skin needed sun protection.

Sun Protection Evolution

The 1930s and 1940s brought the advent of products that encouraged the development of tans. Sun protection was also developed during this era, as seen with products such as the aforementioned Ambre Solaire. In 1938, a chemist from Austria, Franz Greiter, developed a product that defended the skin against the sun, which he referred to as "glacier cream." He developed this as a response to an unfortunate sunburn he experienced during a day trip exploring a mountain. Years later, in 1962, Greiter coined the phrase "sun protection factor," which is used today as a means of analyzing the strength of sun protection formulas.