4th and 5th Centuries B.C.
During this time, tan skin was a sign of health. Also, sun and air were key elements of Hippocrates’ theories.
Tanning has not been in style for centuries. It was seen as a sign of poverty, as only the poor had to spend their days toiling in the fields.
Delicate, porcelain skin was “in.” People would even use make-up to make their skin appear lighter, much like “Goths” today. Arsenic was a popular skin whitener.
Tanning did exist during this time, however. It was practiced sparingly and for medical purposes. It was believed that “sunbaths” could cure anything from tuberculosis to aggressive eczema.
In 1903, Dr. Auguste Rollier opened the world’s first sun clinic in the Swiss Alps. The clinic treated diseases by gradually introducing patients to the sun, by first starting them with bed rest. Then, they were exposed to the mountain air. Finally, they were allowed brief sunbaths.
It was not until the 1920s that tanning gained popularity. Coco Chanel is largely credited for starting the tan craze in 1923 when she returned from a vacation in the French Riviera deeply bronzed.
Also during this time, poor workers left the fields for sunless factories and mines. Now, tan skin was a sign of wealth and leisure.
Still in the 20s, the health benefits of sun exposure turned tanning into a health craze in Britain.
“I think there still are health benefits, but there are risks too. People emphasize the bad more than the good,” said Courtney Steffen, an employee at Planet Beach Tanning Spa.
Nudists were the first to tan themselves out of pleasure rather than medical necessity. In fact, the term “sunbather” originally meant “nudist.” In 1931, a number of nudist clubs opened, and nudity became standard beachwear.
Tanning was still very popular, as the danger of tanning were not yet prominent concerns.
“When I was in high school and into my 20s, tanning was a big deal. You would use suntan lotions to get a tan. The products would brag about how quickly and darkly you would tan using them. There was no SPF stuff. We would also lie on foil blankets and use baby oil so that we would burn and tan quicker. I cannot tell you how many sunburns I have had, many of them on purpose,” said Cheryl Huff, 48.
In 1979, the FDA confirmed that sunscreen could protect against skin cancer and developed a rating system for SPFs.
Tanning salons and studios emerged. These studios have gained in popularity, and indoor tanning is now a $2 billion industry in the U.S.
In 1985, the American Academy of Dermatology became the first medical group to expose the risks of skin cancer and start an anti-tanning campaign.
By the 90s, tanning salons had the technology to significantly cut down on tanning time. Also, spray tanning was greatly improved and popular with those who did not want to expose themselves to ultraviolet light.
Today about 24,000 tanning salons can be found in the Yellow Pages, and despite the known risks, the popularity of tanning continues to grow.
Tanning salons are more strictly regulated now, however.
“Anyone under 18 teens their parents present to give written consent,” Steffen said.
Warnings are also posted in each tanning booth.
The government even regulates how often a person can tan in a salon. In Iowa, there must be a minimum of 24 hours between each tanning session.
“I still feel like I look better with a tan. It’s hard to get rid of something you have believed for so long,” Huff said.