The New Wave in Sunblocks Is a Potent Potion Called Bullfrog

updated 08/11/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/11/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Ignore the jellyfish and don't even think twice about Jaws. The creature of the beach this summer is smooth, smells faintly of grapefruit, spreads all over—and goes by the name of Bullfrog.

The coolest sunblock on the California coast, with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 18 and the ability to stay on for at least six hours wet, Bullfrog has become the California surfers' favorite. It's named for the bullfrog's comfort in as well as out of water and, says L.A. surfer Tina Burke, 26, "It's fabulous. I grew up on the beach and I've never found anything else that worked. Other sunscreens say they don't wash off, but 99 percent of them do."

In key coastal markets, Bullfrog is just a hop and a skip behind imperial Coppertone, and now it's leaping across the country and has even bounded to Hawaii and down to Australia. For sun addicts no longer in the dark about the serious dangers of even moderate sun exposure, Bullfrog is good news. In contrast to more popular sunscreens with sun protection factors of, say, 4, 8 or 15, Bullfrog, applied thoroughly, allows you to remain in the sun 18 times longer than if you weren't protected at all. No amount of sunscreen eliminates the risk of getting skin cancer, but the more protection the better.

Originated by a Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. executive and business analyst named Don Chelew, Bullfrog has in four short years gone from a test tube in a chemist's lab to a place on shelves in 80 percent of the nation's surf shops. For Chelew, 55, who believes that work should be a high adventure of risk and fun, the Bullfrog idea occurred in 1982 when his surfer son, Gregg, came to him "all red and sunburned and said, 'Dad, if you ever invent a sunscreen that stays on, you'll make a fortune.' "

Chelew had a Simi Valley chemist, John Chilakos, develop a formula with potent ultraviolet radiation absorbers (Octocrylene and PABA) and a secret natural vegetable waterproofing ingredient, plus vitamins and aloe. Gregg, then 25, began to "torture test" it on his surfing buddies. When they gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up, Gregg set off in a bright green Bullfrog van to spread the word.

Soon beach shops up and down the California coast were buying on faith. Now, taking the tip from the surfers, fishermen, other sportsmen and women and even construction workers are bringing Bullfrog to their places in the sun. "We made up in enthusiasm," says Chelew, "what we lacked in bigness."

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