From Status Symbol to Health Hazard: The History of Tanning and the Risks of Excessive Sun Exposure


The History of Tanning: From Status Symbol to Health Hazard

For centuries, fair skin was considered the ideal in Western societies. People used various methods to avoid the sun and maintain a pale complexion, including wearing hats, gloves, and long sleeves. Lightening creams containing toxic ingredients like lead were also popular.

Women in the Victorian Era wore parasols in order to protect their skin from the sun and to keep their skin as white as possible.

However, the trend shifted in the 1920s when French fashion designer Coco Chanel accidentally got a sunburn while on vacation in the French Riviera. Upon returning to Paris, her bronzed skin sparked a trend for tanning, which was seen as a sign of health, leisure, and wealth.

Coco Chanel set a trend for tanning as we know it since 1920.

Movie stars like Brigitte Bardot and Ursula Andress also helped to popularize the tanned look, which became associated with beauty, glamour, and sex appeal.

Ursula Andress in the first James Bond movie ‘Dr. No’ with tanned skin.

This trend resulted in the rise of tanning beds and excessive sunbathing. Despite warnings from researchers in the 1970s and 1980s linking sun exposure to premature aging and skin cancer, tanning beds continued to gain popularity in the 1990s and 2000s.

However, by the late 2000s and early 2010s, there was a growing awareness of the risks associated with indoor tanning, including premature aging and an increased risk of skin cancer. In 2010, the American Academy of Dermatology launched a public awareness campaign warning about the dangers of indoor tanning, and many countries began to regulate tanning beds more strictly.

Today, more and more people have become aware of the harmful effects of the sun and tanning beds and thus try to avoid sunbathing and tanning beds. However, the desire to have a bronzed golden glow remains since it is the Western beauty ideal, and therefore, many people choose to use sunless tanning products to achieve a tan without exposing their skin to harmful UV rays.

The Risks of Excessive Sun Exposure and Tanning Beds

Excessive sun exposure and the use of tanning beds can have serious health consequences. The most significant risk associated with both is an increased risk of skin cancer, including the most deadly form, melanoma.

UV radiation from the sun and tanning beds damages the DNA in skin cells, causing mutations that can lead to skin cancer. Over time, this damage can accumulate and cause premature aging, including wrinkles, sun spots, and a loss of skin elasticity.

In addition to skin cancer and premature aging, excessive sun exposure can also cause eye damage, such as cataracts, and weaken the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infections.

Tanning beds are particularly dangerous, as they emit more intense UV radiation than the sun, and users are exposed to the radiation for longer periods of time. In fact, people who use tanning beds before the age of 35 increase their risk of melanoma by 59%.

Protecting Yourself from the Risks of Sun Exposure and Tanning Beds

To protect yourself from the risks of excessive sun exposure and tanning beds, it is essential to practice safe sun habits.
This includes:

  • Applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher whenever you go outside, even on cloudy days.

  • Wearing protective clothing, such as hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants.

  • Seeking shade during the hottest parts of the day, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

  • Avoiding tanning beds altogether and opting for self-tanning products instead.

    By following these simple steps, you can protect yourself from the harmful effects of the sun and tanning beds while still achieving a beautiful, healthy glow.

    Remember, when it comes to tanning, less is more.


Hi there! I am Dr. Kim Detollenaere, aesthetic doctor and owner of 'Doctor Contour' aesthetic guide and clinic. I have been a content creator for several years, next to my busy medical life. Get to know more about me on Instagram, Youtube or check out the 'About me' page on this blog for more info!

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