Although the number of people using tanning beds has been on the decline in recent years, millions of people in the U.S. alone are still using sunless tanning as a means of obtaining the idolized bronzed look. Before the Industrial Revolution, pale skin was all the rage. White, almost translucent skin, was seen as a sign of economic stability. It meant you could stay inside and were not a part of the working class who spent a fair amount of time in the sun. As metropolitan areas continued to emerge, living conditions for the lower class got crowded, the air and streets polluted, and, as a result, their children developed conditions like rickets and tuberculosis. By 1890, Theonald Palm, a medical missionary, noticed the relevance of rickets amongst children living in cramped , overcast regions and compared it to those living in areas with more tropical climates. He believed that sunlight had the capacity to assist in preventing the onset of rickets. Sunlight contains vitamin-D, an important nutrient for the body. This theory helped establish sunlight as an ingredient in proper health amongst the general public. This idea was pushed even further at the turn of the century when Niels Finsen won a Nobel prize for his research on light therapy. Ultraviolet rays had an inhibiting effect on bacteria, so Finsen used strong ultraviolet beams to treat patients with lupus vulgaris. His results were of mixed success.

It took quite some time for the fad to flip from favoring pale skin to bronzed skin. Tanning became chic really only once Coco Chanel was photographed after getting too much sun while on holiday. People wanted to go on vacations too, but economic collapses and wars  prevented such luxuries. In 1970, Fredrich Wolff invented the first tanning device. It was first released in Europe and eventually came to America in 1978. People liked the idea of sunless tanning because they could look as though they had leisure time and money to go away on a holiday without actually having to leave town-or even their own homes! It was easy and trendy.

The rays of a tanning bed are 5x more powerful than the midday sun. People associate a tan with health; a direct contradiction in most instances. Tanning damages the skin and causes premature aging, potential eye damage, burns, skin dryness, and raises the risk of developing cancer. According to the World Health Organization, people who have used tanning devices before age 30 are 75% more likely to develop melanoma. Another modern method of achieving perfectly bronzed skin now involves tanning injections. Usually what is injected under the skin is a synthetic hormone, melanotan, which stimulates pigment cells in the body to produce more melanin. Unfortunately, this can also stimulate unforeseen changes in the skin. These products have not had enough testing done to fully understand the long-term effects of use.

In short, sun-light can be good for the body when exposure is limited and monitored, but tanning devices are dangerous. Sunless tanning became a convenient option for ordinary people to achieve that aforementioned glow. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the melanoma epidemic was noticed and the negative effects of tanning beds, or solariums, surfaced. Today, the industry is more regulated, but tanning-lovers are still finding ways to push the envelope. Some people are simply set on achieving that perfect tan-but at what cost?

Thank you for reading!

Until Next Time


Wilkinson, Sophie. “A Short History of Tanning.” The Guardian. 19 February, 2012. Accessed 2 March, 2023.

One thought on “A “Healthy” Glow- A Brief History of Sunless Tanning

  1. Nastassia—
    Another great piece. Fun and informative. Thank you!!

    We loved your holiday greeting- thanks for the update.
    You mentioned sewing clothes to create historical pieces. Hope you know that Aunt Barbara is an excellent seamstress and probably could provide you with tips.
    Aaron’s hunting adventure sounds amazing. Thinking it was in Pennsylvania—an excellent state to hunt deer.
    As for my reading…. I read books within in my field, and my favorite reading is about Neuroscience and how to put it to use in everyday interactions.
    Uncle Andy and I do have a few camping trips sets up for the spring and anticipate lots of kayaking.

    Sending much love to you and Aaron, Aunt Wendy

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s