Sun Tanning

Is sun tanning good or bad? The debates over the health effects of UV light exposure have been more intense now than 20 years ago.

Historical Sun Tanning Facts

Fair skin was considered a sign of a higher status in the society of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Roman civilizations. In Europe before and during the Victorian era, pale skin was also a sign of social status and wealth, while tanned skin color was indicated that people engaged in outdoor physical labor and, consequently, belonged to the lower classes of the society.

The wealthy and privileged elite stayed indoors avoiding sunlight and even used cosmetic and bleaching agents to make their skin as light as possible.

The mid- 19th century was marked by rapid changes in industrial and working practices. With the industrial revolution, people left the fields to labor in factories. As a result, they did not have the chance to become tanned while working for many hours indoors.

Sun Tanning Facts of the 20th and 21st Centuries

In the early 20 century, the connection between sunlight exposure and vitamin D was discovered. The American medical doctor John H. Kellogg advocated the health benefits of sunlight and believed that sunbathing is good for various health problems. He ran the sanatorium and used sunbath as a part of the holistic treatment for rickets, tuberculosis, gout, rheumatism, eczema, and various skin conditions.

The famous fashion designer Coco Chanel is associated with the popularization of sunbathing. In 1923 while traveling on the yacht, she accidentally got sunburned. Because Coco Chanel represented fashions and new styles, this fact was accepted as a new trend. Sun tanning became a fashion accessory and a sign of health and sexuality.

In the 1930s sunbathing was extremely popular and advertised as a cure for many diseases and a variety of health conditions.

In the middle of the 20th century, sun tanning on the beach has become the new cult, associated with a healthy lifestyle. Tan skin was an indicator of a person's status in society because the wealthy people could afford to escape the cold winter time to warm resorts relaxing and sunbathing on the beach.

Nowadays, medical authorities assert that UV exposure is harmful and tan is not a sign of good health but could bring more harm than benefits. According to the Skin Cancer Organization, ninety percent of skin cancers are associated with overexposure to the sun.


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Michael F. Holick, M.D., Ph.D. Vitamin D Deficiency. The New England Journal of Medicine. July 2007
Jazz Age Club

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