Sun tanning  

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La promenade (1875) is a painting by Claude Monet. At that time in the West, the upper social class used parasols, long sleeves and hats to avoid sun tanning effects.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Sun tanning or simply tanning is the process whereby skin color is darkened or tanned. The process is most often a result of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or from artificial sources, such as a tanning bed, but can also be a result of windburn or reflected light. People who deliberately tan their skin by exposure to the sun engage in sun bathing, though there are also artificial tanning methods. Some people use chemical products which can produce a tanning result without exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Casual exposure to the sun has moderate beneficial impact, including the production of vitamin D by the body, but excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays has detrimental health effects, including possible sunburn and even skin cancer, as well as depressed immune system function and increased risk of accelerated aging. To avoid sunburn, most people apply suitable sunscreen to skin exposed to the sun, but others use oils to accelerate the tanning process.

Some people tan or sunburn more easily than others. This may be the result of different skin types and natural skin color, and these may be as a result of genetics.

The term "tanning" has a cultural origin, arising from the color tan. Its origin lies in the Western culture of Europe when it became fashionable for young women to seek a less pale complexion (see Cultural history below).

Cultural history

Tanning has gone in and out of fashion. In the United States and Western Europe before about the 1920s, tanned skin was associated with the lower classes, because they worked outdoors and were exposed to the sun. Women went to great lengths to preserve pallid skin, as a sign of their "refinement".

Women's outdoor clothing styles were tailored to protect against sun exposure, with full-length sleeves, and sunbonnets and other large hats, headscarves, and parasols shielding the head. Women even went as far as to put lead-based cosmetics on their skin to artificially whiten their skin tone. However, when not strictly monitored, these cosmetics caused lead poisoning. Light-skinned appearance was achieved in other ways, including the use of arsenic to whiten skin, and lightening powders. The preference for fair skin continued until the end of the Victorian era.

By the early 20th century, the therapeutic benefits of sunlight began to be recognized. In 1903, Niels Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his “Finsen Light Therapy”. The therapy was a cure for diseases such as lupus vulgaris and rickets. Vitamin D deficiency was found to be a cause of rickets, and exposure to the sun would allow vitamin D to be produced in a person. Therefore, sun exposure was a remedy to curing several diseases, especially rickets. In 1910 a scientific expedition went to the island of Tenerife to test the wider health benefits of "heliotherapy", and by 1913 "sunbathing" was referred to as a desirable activity for the leisured class.

Shortly thereafter, in the 1920s, fashion-designer Coco Chanel accidentally got sunburnt while visiting the French Riviera. When she arrived home, she arrived with a sun tan and her fans apparently liked the look and started to adopt darker skin tones themselves. Tanned skin became a trend partly because of Coco’s status and the longing for her lifestyle by other members of society. In addition, Parisians fell in love with Josephine Baker, a “caramel-skinned” singer in Paris, and idolized her dark skin. These two women were leading figures of the transformation that tanned skin underwent, in which it became perceived as fashionable, healthy, and luxurious. Jean Patou capitalized on the new tanning fad, launching the first sun tan oil "Huile de Chaldee" in 1927.

Just before the 1930s, sun therapy became a popularly subscribed cure for almost every ailment from simple fatigue to tuberculosis. In the 1940s, advertisements started appearing in women’s magazines which encouraged sunbathing. At the same time, swimsuits' skin coverage began decreasing, with the bikini radically changing swimsuit style after it made its appearance in 1946. In the 1950s, many people used baby oil as a method to increase tanning. The first self-tanner came about in the same decade and was known as “Man-Tan,” although it often led to undesirable orange skin. Coppertone, in 1953, marketed its sunscreen with a drawing of a little blond girl and her cocker spaniel tugging on her bathing suit bottoms revealing her bare bottom and tan line; this advertisement was modified around the turn of the 21st century and now shows a little girl wearing a one-piece bathing suit or shorts. In the latter part of the 1950s, silver metallic reflectors were common to enhance one’s tan.

In 1962, sunscreen commenced to be SPF rated, although SPF labeling in the US was not standardized by the FDA until 1978. In 1971, Mattel introduced Malibu Barbie, which had tanned skin, sunglasses, and her very own bottle of sun tanning lotion. In 1978, both sunscreen with an SPF 15 rating as well as tanning beds first appeared. In 2007, there were an estimated 50,000 outlets for indoor tanning; it was a five-billion-dollar industry in the United States, and had spawned an auxiliary industry for indoor tanning lotions including bronzers, intensifiers, and accelerators. Since then, the indoor tanning industry has become more constrained by health regulations. In China, darker skin is still considered by many to be the mark of the lower classes. As recently as 2012, in some parts of China, ski masks were becoming popular items to wear at the beach in order to protect the wearer's face from the effects of the sun. Many people regard visible tan lines as un-aesthetic, and seek to avoid tan lines that will be visible when regular clothes are worn. Some people try to achieve an all-over tan or to maximize their tan coverage. To achieve an all-over tan, tanners need to minimize the amount of clothing they wear while tanning. For women who cannot dispense with a swimsuit, they at times tan with the back strap undone while lying on the front, or removing shoulder straps, besides wearing swimsuits which cover less area than their normal clothing. Any exposure is subject to local community standards and personal choice. Some people tan in the privacy of their backyard where they can at times tan without clothes, and some countries have set aside clothing-optional swimming areas (popularly known as nude beaches), where people can tan and swim clothes-free. Some people tan topless, and others wear very brief swimwear, such as a microkini or thong.

A 1969 innovation is tan-through swimwear, which uses fabric perforated with thousands of micro holes that are nearly invisible to the naked eye, but which transmit enough sunlight to approach an all-over tan, especially if the fabric is stretched taut. Tan-through swimwear typically allows more than one-third of UV rays to pass through (equivalent to SPF 3 or less), and an application of sunscreen even to the covered area is recommended.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Sun tanning" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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