History of tanning II: tanning is a modern trend
Tanning is a recent trend and its appeal is fading since science unveiled its link with skin diseases. Pale complexion remained a fashion in Europe till the 20th century and tanning was associated with poor social conditions. During the Victorian, era even if the cosmetics were not considered appropriate for well educated girls, women used natural looking make-up and abandoned harmful whitening powders containing mercury or lead. The alabaster visages of the 18th century disappeared but upper classes continued to avoid the sun wearing large hats and using parasols. The perception of the sun and its effects changed when medicine discovered its positive effects on human health.
At that time thousands of children grew up spending most of the day indoor to avoid the pollution and the other dangers of the slums and developed rickets. At the end of the 19th century Theobald Palm discovered the critical role of sunlight for bone development and a year later Johan Harvey Kellogg (yes, the same one who invented the corn flakes) cured King Edward VII gout with the incandescent light bath. In 1903, Niels Ryberg Finsen won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “in recognition of his contribution to the treatment of diseases, especially lupus vulgaris, with concentrated light radiation, whereby he has opened a new avenue for medical science.”
Twenty years after this medical rehabilitation Coco Chanel made suntanning chic when she caught too much sun during a cruise and established a new icon of beauty. For most of the people living in northern Europe natural tanning was not achievable until the sixties when economic boom and commercial air travel allowed a broader number of tourists to reach the Mediterranean countries. As in the past pearl complexion had been a mark of privilege, from the 1960s on, a tan announced that you had the time to bronze and you are rich enough to travel abroad.
Even if not all could afford vacations to the sun paradises with the development of the artificial tanning market, more and more people were able to get a dark complexion. The first self-tanner, Man-Tan, was introduced in 1959 in US and UV tanning beds started to appear in 1978.
In the last two decades the appeal of the tan has been fading. In 2009 fears surrounding the risks of tanning were confirmed and today we know that skin cancers are associated with exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation and that it can also cause eye damage and photoaging signs as wrinkles, leathery skin and brown spots.
Sun protection is essential to prevent skin damages, nevertheless there is a hidden risk of sun damages even spending time indoor in some specific situations.
To optimize prevention and skin health you need sun protection as much as you need vitamin D. You can have both and avoid either vitamin D deficiency and skin damage
When spending time outside in warm weather we may need using both insect repellents and sunscreens products
New Scientist Live, the world’s best science festival in ExCel London, is the stage to be launched FREE Download of HappySun app.
Tanning is a fairly recent trend and even today the ‘ideal’ skin colour varies among different cultures