Coppertone Owes its Success to a Pharmacist


Sunbathers lathering up with suntan lotion have a pharmacist to thank for the original Coppertone formula.

Sunbathers lathering up with suntan lotion have a pharmacist to thank for the original Coppertone formula.

The first effective suntan lotion was developed around 1938 by a Swiss chemistry student named Franz Greiter, who got sunburned as he climbed Mount Piz Buin in the Alps, according to The New York Times.

However, pharmacist Benjamin Green came into the picture in 1944, when he served as an airman in World War II. Green used red veterinary petrolatum, or “red vet pet,” as a physical barrier from the sun to prevent ultraviolet rays from hitting his skin, according to The New York Times.

Coppertone’s history webpage said Green was a pharmacist from Miami, Florida, who sought to protect himself and his fellow soldiers from sunburn.

The New York Times described Green’s first sunscreen product as “heavy and unpleasant.”

After the war, however, Green developed a more pleasing product by adding cocoa butter and coconut oil to the red vet pet. This combination would later become Coppertone suntan lotion.

Meanwhile, in 1946, Greiter started to market his product, Piz Buin, named in honor of the mountain he was climbing when he first got the idea for suntan lotion. His invention had originally been known as Gletscher Crème (Glacier Cream).

A decade later, in 1956, Coppertone introduced its famous logo of a dog and a little girl in a bathing suit, also known as “The Little Miss Coppertone.” The New York Times reported the illustrator, Joyce Ballantyne, drew the little girl to look like her 3-year old daughter, Cheri.

Sun protection factor (SPF) was developed by Greiter in 1962, according to an article published in Photobiology. Greiter is also credited with having developed the first sunscreens that absorbed UVA and UVB light, as well as water-resistant sunscreens.

A 1978 FDA document noted overexposure to the sun can cause premature skin aging and skin cancer. This was also the first year the FDA began regulating sunscreen as OTC products.

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