Beauty in Design: 1970s, 80s and 90s sunscreen packaging and its influence today

What is your earliest memory of sunscreen? I was born in a city called Banja Luka, which is in the beautiful country of Bosnia & Herzegovina and growing up in the 80s/90s sunscreen wasn’t as widely used as now. However, I have a very clear picture in my head of the sunscreens that we applied when we were skiing (neon coloured zinc sticks) and holidaying by the sea (Ambre Solaire with a crazy low SPF).

I have been noticing a bit of a trend lately with sunscreen and it seems to me that there has been a revival of a somewhat retro aesthetic, both in packaging design and marketing. We’ll look at some modern examples but before we dive into the new retro, let’s jump into our visual time machine, take a look at some packaging from the past and reminisce about simpler, but crispier, times. Before everyone became aware of the dangers of sunscreen a lot of these brands relied heavily on selling tanning oils and tanning lotions. Tanning and colourism is another topic I would like to cover, but for now let’s look at the branding.

1970/80s Ambre Solaire Packaging
Ambre Solaire

Origin: France

Ambre Solaire has a long history of suncare products, dating back to Ambre Solaire Huile formulated in 1935 by Eugène Schueller, founder of L’Oreal. This brand has some of the most iconic packaging, from the wavy shaped bottle, which still influences sunscreen packaging design today, to the uniquely shaped lids and sunset colours.

Nivea

Origin: Germany

The classic Nivea Creme is firmly cemented in my memory, back when it used to be in an aluminium tin. My mum always had some lying around and the scent always takes me back to my childhood. Nivea also have a significant heritage when it comes to suncare products. Let’s take a look at some of their packaging from the past.

Coppertone

Origin: U.S.A.

Coppertone were another powerhouse in the suncare category and they chose some very concerning methods of advertising their products which I will cover in the separate post about tanning and colourism. I can definitely see how Ambre Solaire influenced both Nivea and Coppertone’s packaging, all opting for the amber toned glass bottle in some of their early iterations.

Here are a few other fun and bold packaging examples that stood out to me from the 1970s. I know pump dispensers are so much more practical but I’m a big fan of the flip lid.

So with all of this in mind, let’s take a look at some modern sunscreen brands and how they’ve subtly (or in some cases, not so subtly) referenced sunscreen packaging elements from the past.

Vacation Inc.

The big standout for me amongst the new contenders is Vacation Inc. from the U.S.A. They have wholly embraced a 1980s/90s aesthetic not only within their product packaging and branding but their communications and copy. I urge you to take a look at their website and Instagram page and read some of their hilarious captions. It will transport you to another world.

Standard Procedure

Standard Procedure is an Australian brand from the Sunshine Coast that was inspired by “the sun-kissed days of bygone eras”. This influence is seen in the shape of the bottle, the font, the gradating colours of the circular motif and the grainy campaign shoots.

Solid & Striped

Solid & Striped are a swim-wear and resort-wear company that hails from the U.S.A. The sunset and bronze packaging colours of their sunscreens, as well as the bold font are very reminiscent of the old Sun & Ski and Delial packaging.

Bask

Bask is a relatively new brand from the U.S.A. that has adopted a pastel colour way, perhaps referencing the other must-have accessory when you’re at the beach – ice cream. I love the playful font and their campaigns which, like the previous brands, have a grainy film photography vibe which really takes me back.

We Are Feel Good Inc.

We Are Feel Good Inc. are from my home state, Western Australia and they’re pretty much my favourite sunscreen brand right now. Their boxy bottle packaging with the flip lid and colouring (especially the brown) reminds me of some of the bottles from the 80s.

Frankies Bikinis

Frankies Bikinis is another swim-wear company that has added sunscreen to their repertoire. I actually really appreciate that they’re promoting the sun safety message to their customers. The branding of their mineral sunscreen is very minimalistic, but the shape of the bottle is strongly reminiscent of Coppertone.

Happy Hours

Happy Hours Skin is another Aussie brand with retro-inspired packaging. The wavy shape seems to reference that original Ambre Solaire bottle but in fun pastel colours. Dreamy.

Everyday Humans

Everyday Humans products are made in Australia and their branding is a little different to the rest of the newcomers mentioned. However I am still sensing a really strong late 80s, early 90s influence with the use of bright colours, contrasting patterns like the checkerboard and clipart shapes.

Soleil Toujours

Soleil Toujours, from the U.S.A., takes more of a luxury, understated angle with their packaging with a subtle nod to the past coming through the bottle shapes and colours. The grainy lifestyle videos and campaign still feature heavily here as well.

This brings us to the end of our retrospective on sunscreen packaging and I truly hope you enjoyed seeing the parallels between the two eras and how some packaging design elements have stood the test of time. I’m glad to see that brands have left behind the tanning marketing angle, and instead focused on sun protection.

A category of sunscreens that I haven’t yet tried is sunscreens from Korea and Japan. I’ve heard great things about them and it would be interesting to check out if any of these Eurocentric elements I’ve outlined have influenced packaging designers in Asia.

I’d love to know your earliest memory of sunscreen. Email me or DM me on Instagram.

– Sanida

Featured Photo by Ev on Unsplash.