Since this past weekend was Labor Day, we hosted a pool party and cookout for a few friends with kids. The kids showed up eager to play in the pool, but first they had to go through the mandatory sunscreen slathering by the moms.
My generation is diligent, or you might say fanatical, about using sunscreen. Which got me thinking, when did sunscreen become so available and widespread? The group by my pool couldn’t remember our parents putting sunscreen on us much if at all when we were kids, which partially explains the growth of the dermatology industry.
I often tell MiniMe that her mom grew up in “dangerous times” and that I’m lucky to have survived at all. As a kid, I didn’t wear sunscreen, a bike helmet or a seat belt. The only thing our parents protected us from was sitting too close to the TV (You’ll ruin your eyes!), making funny faces (your face will freeze like that), and drowning due to cramps caused by entering the water after eating without first waiting 30-minutes.
But back to sunscreen. I did a quick bit of research and determined that no, our parents weren’t throwing caution to the wind in sending us out as kids without sunscreen in Florida. In the 60s and early 70s, only suntan lotion was available - a lotion or oil designed to help you achieve a golden tan, not protect you from harmful rays. It wasn’t until the mid-70s that sunscreen with SPF factors started to appear on the market, and most were only at the 2, 4 or 8 level. The FDA didn’t begin regulation of sunscreen until the late 70s. Researchers didn’t discover that ultraviolet-B and ultraviolet-A rays initiate cancer until the 1980s, which is when sunscreen got serious.
I did discover in my walk down sunscreen memory lane that Florida has a unique connection to one of America’s most iconic sunscreen brands, Coppertone. The suncare maker sealed its place in U.S. advertising history when it launched an ad in 1959 featuring a little girl in pigtails whose dog was tugging her bathing suit bottoms down to reveal a tan line. The ad campaign, launched Coppertone to become the most successful sun care brand in U.S. history and the Coppertone Girl is one of the most beloved and recognized symbols of commercial art ever created.
So what’s the Florida connection? The artist who created that iconic image was Joyce Ballantyne Brand. The artist moved to Ocala in the 1970s where she lived until her death in 2006. Joyce created the Coppertone Girl illustration, for which she was paid $2,500, using her 3-year-old daughter Cheri as a model. As an artist, Joyce enjoyed a long and successful career illustrating commercial art, with no thanks to Disney. The Walt Disney Company rescinded a scholarship to attend its famous animation school that Joyce won as a teen by entering an illustration contest. According to Joyce, when a Disney representative realized their winning art contestant was female and a teenager, he told Joyce she could not receive the spot at animation school because women got married and had babies, not careers.
Joyce lived into her 90s in Florida under the shadow of the Mouse who was slow to recognize the potential of women as a gender. Funny how today the company benefits from all us mommies who plan the family vacation and cover our kids with sunscreen along the way.