Did you know… About a Miami man’s role in sunscreen history?

We’re well into summer in Miami, and most of us know it would be reckless to go without sunscreen (especially with the record heat we’ve seen lately). But did you know the most popular version of sunblock was invented by a 305 native? 

During World War II, Miami Beach pharmacist Benjamin Green — who was serving as an airman — wanted to come up with a way for him and his fellow soldiers to avoid getting sunburned. So he slathered on a greasy red jelly called red veterinary petrolatum, or “red vet pet,” to prevent UV rays from scorching his skin. But the jelly was too thick, and smelled bad, so a few years after the war he added coconut oil and cocoa butter to make it a little more pleasant. That became the formula for Coppertone suntan lotion, which hit the market in 1944 as the first consumer sunscreen. 

Sunscreen has come a long way since Green created his original Coppertone formula in 1944. Chemicals have been added to block both UVA and UVB rays, some of which have recently been deemed unsafe for people and the environment. But that doesn’t mean you should toss your sunscreen. 

Dermatologists say it’s still essential to guard against skin cancer and sun damage, and you can check the Environmental Working Group annual guide if you’re looking for the safest sunscreens on the market. 

And since we’re talking about Coppertone, we’ve got the scoop on the iconic Coppertone Girl, too. The cute little girl, with a dog tugging at her underpants, came along as part of an ad campaign in 1959 — years after Green had left the company. 

Coppertone hired artist Joyce Ballantyne to create the campaign, and she drew a painting using her three-year old daughter Cheri as a model. And that’s who you see on the billboard so many of us have driven past on Northeast 73rd Street and Biscayne Boulevard. 

Another interesting tidbit? After a portion of the Coppertone Girl’s head blew off from the sign, during Hurricane Irma in 2017, the MiMo Biscayne Association was able to restore it and the billboard now has a historic designation.