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Sun Protection Through History

Have you ever wondered what measures ancient civilisations and different cultures have taken over time to protect their skin from damage caused by the sun?

For as long as humans have inhabited the earth we have been dependent, intrigued, wary, fascinated and drawn to the sun. We have depended on it for light, warmth, energy, health, food and happiness – without it we wouldn’t exist!

But the sun can in a sense be a weapon to us, damaging our skin and causing cancers that can sadly end lives – and this seems to have been known for thousands of years…   

Following are some fun facts about ancient sun protection that you might find interesting!

Tribal body-painting in Papua New Guinea. Image credit Gudmundur Fridriksson.

A Himba woman covers her giggling son with otjize. Image credit: Jami Tarris



Burmese girls wearing thanaka – image credit: Insight Guides.

 Sunscreen as we know it has been produced since the 1940s and has evolved over the years to protect in different ways. For more information on what makes up a good sunscreen please see my article here.

Damage to skin as a result of UV exposure has been known for thousands of years, probably not to the extent of what we know today, but humans through time seem to have known that they needed to protect themselves from it – the pain from one burn quickly teaches us that we need to be wary of prolonged sun exposure!

We are fortunate to now have access to thoroughly-researched sunscreens and fabrics that can cover parts of our bodies and provide protection from UV rays; UPF fabric blocks out a significant percentage (approximately 98%) of harmful rays and has a large number of advantages over sunscreen-use alone.

Tribe Tropical’s range of sun-safe swimwear and hats offer broad spectrum sun protection; you can shop the UPF50+ range of swimsuits and hats here. 

 Author: Emily Gradon

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