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Since its invention in the early 20th century, sunscreen has made its way from a suggested precaution to an everyday must. Now a staple of sunbathers around the globe, these brightly colored bottles have popped up everywhere from movies to TV to books—even in the hands of Malibu Barbie. Here, we trace the skin saver from its fashionable roots in France to its full-blown pop culture dominance in the late ‘90s.
Ever the trendsetter, the designer ignited a French tanning craze after lighting up the social scene with her post vay-cay glow. Inspired, enterprising Frenchman Monsieur Antonine launches his own tanning lotions, which later make their way to the States as Bain de Soleil.
Fresh off scientist Franz Greiter’s discovery of a sun-shielding formula, Coppertone gives it commercial life with its iconic “Coppertone Girl,” advertisement, which depicts a cocker spaniel playing tug of war with a pigtailed child’s bathing suit bottom. 60 years later, the brand still uses a version of its original illustration.
Despite the invention of SPF (aka Sun Protection Factor) for sunscreen labels in 1962, it seems like The Graduate’s Mrs. Robinson never got the memo—judging by the tan lines she sports in the 1967 film’s infamous scene of seduction.
Mattel’s Malibu Barbie hits toy stores with her very own miniature bottle of sunscreen. Whether or not she ever used it is still up for debate.
Australia, the land of surfers and suntans, unveils a skin cancer awareness campaign called “Slip-Slop-Slap,” which stars a dancing animated duck urging sunbathers to “Slip on a shirt, Slop on the 30+ sunscreen, Slap on a hat.”
Sean Penn charms moviegoers as stoner-surfer Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Even cooler than his devotion to pizza (even during class)? His dedication to sun protection via a thick layer of zinc oxide on his nose.
Cult author R.L. Stine’s young adult novel Sunburn proves that skipping SPF can be truly dangerous. In it, Stine follows the tale of a young woman’s stay at her friend’s beachside summer home, where sunny skies give way to murderous consequences. The true horror? The protagonist’s particularly nasty sunburn.
Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich pens her now famous “Wear Sunscreen” article, a mock commencement speech to the class of ‘97. One year later, Baz Luhrmann (the director of Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby) repurposes Schmich’s speech in a bizarrely popular MTV hit, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen).”
Friends airs “The One With Ross’s Tan” reminding viewers that, even when it comes to fake sun, too much is never a good thing.
Neutrogena wins the SPF arms race with its SPF 100+ lotion, defeating Coppertone’s SPF 70 and Banana Boat’s SPF 85. Despite these companies’ efforts, however, the Skin Cancer Foundation notes that any SPF higher than 50—which blocks 98 percent of the sun’s rays—results in a minimal increase in sun protection.
In her In Style UK cover story, the porcelain-skinned star sounds off about her devotion to sun protection for its anti-aging benefits.
A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine confirms what we’ve known for years—that continued long-term use of sunscreen slows the signs of aging. Hear that, Mr. Tanning Bed?
Rolling Stone’s Coachella recap calls out pale-skinned shredder Ty Segall for his sunburn, urging him to wear SPF. Turns out rock stars need sun protection too.
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