Ask the Past: sun safety

I'm going up to the bach for a long weekend at the beach this weekend. Any tips for sun safety?

Well, obviously I am going to recommend sunscreen, and surprisingly enough, it has been around longer than you might think. I found newspaper ads for sunscreen as far back as December of 1943, like this one from the Timaru Herald on 29 December

A vintage ad for Eazy Tan lotion. It shows a woman in a retro swimsuit soaking up the sun, and promises 'a new non-oily Suntan Lotion that quickly tans your skin a beautiful bronze without the slightest discomfort'.

Unfortunately, if you're trying to avoid skin cancer, this might not be the thing, because it allows the health-giving ultra violet rays to pass through. It's not altogether clear what it would have done, honestly.

However useless it was, though, it was probably more effective (and less upsetting) than earlier suntan lotions. Here's an ad for Tanola from the 17 November 1936 issue of the Press:

TIME TO TAN UP AGAIN. Start your tanning early this year with Tanola, the only sunburn and suntan lotion containing Vitamin Turtle Oil. Tanola quickly turns a sunburn that smarts into a suntan that’s smart. Sold in Christchurch fey E. Cameron Smith, Ltd., Chemists. Cathedral square (and E. J. Thompson, Chemist, Timaru), at 2/- and 3/6 bottle
I don't know what vitamin turtle oil is, but I'm pretty sure it's not one of the commonly recognised vitamins.

If you do choose to use an outdated sunscreen, or if you decide they are more harm than help and go out without any sunscreen, chances are you'll end up burned, and I think most old books are well aware that that was the most likely outcome, because most of them have very helpful sunburn remedies. Here's one from The Australian Enquiry Book (1894):

Take one drachm of alum, two drachms of borax, one drachm of camphor, half an ounce of sugar candy, and one pound of ox gall. Mix and stir these together for ten minutes or so, and repeat the stirring three or four times a day till the mixture is clear; strain and bottle for use. The face should be bathed with very hot water before applying the above. As a rule, hot water will take out most of the sunburn; no soap should be used.

That remedy does involve a bit of advance preparation, though, and you might find yourself unexpectedly burned and in need of something right away. In that case, this treatment from Lady Hackett's Household Guide (1940) might be more what you're looking for:

Make an ointment of hog's lard, mix with boracic acid, and a little oxide of zinc. Apply to the affected parts for the relief of sunburn.

And if you're less concerned about the health effects of burning and more concerned about how it looks, Lady Hackett's Household Guide has you covered with this arm bleach:

A Good Arm-Bleach for Sunburnt Arms: Take the yolk of 1 egg, 1/2 oz of glycerine, 1/2 oz of rosewater, 20 drops of tincture of benzoin, 1 teaspoonful of olive-oil, and sufficient flour to make a paste that can be spread on the affected part. Method of preparation: Beat the egg thoroughly, and add the other ingredients, ending with the flour. Smear thickly on the arms at night, and wind them with surgical gauze or cheese cloth 1 1/2 inches wide. Begin to wind at the upper arm and go round and round, overlapping; the bandage at the bend of the elbow will be several strips thick to allow for any movement of the arms. This paste should be kept on overnight, and be repeated until the arms are in good condition.

I'm sure that will help.

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