Weatherwatch: shining a light on the history of sunscreen

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The first sunblock, an oily mixture developed by the US military, had a sun protection factor of just two

Weather forecasts now include a warning about ultraviolet levels and everyone knows they should apply sunscreen. However, this type of protection is a recent innovation.

Sunscreen was first used on a large scale during the second world war, when the US military experimented with substances to prevent sunburn. “Red Vet Pet” – short for red veterinary petrolatum – was included in life-raft survival kits for downed airmen. This is a form of petroleum jelly, previously used to treat cuts and burns. It was found to block ultraviolet light, but was oily and unpleasant to apply.

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