Sunbathing Through The Years

The idea of a sun-kissed look has changed over time. While some find a glowing tan to be a healthy look, others are all too aware of the damaging effects of the sun. Read on to find out how perceptions of a tan have evolved throughout the years.

Woman Sunbathing
In early times, many people worked outdoors. The increased exposure to the sun often resulted in significant, painful and even disfiguring burns that left most highly motivated to stay shielded from the sun. Those who had pale, porcelain were envied as this was a sign of wealth and stature. However, after the turn of the 20th century, the wealthy started taking vacations and returning with glowing tans which became the new vogue. Beauty products soon followed suit, to keep up with the new trends.

Sun protection products were first introduced in the 1950’s by Coppertone.  The company claimed their lotions would allow you to tan while protecting you from the sun.  However, as Erika Summers, M.D., a University of Utah dermatologist points our, “They claimed the product let in only the UV rays that promoted tanning and kept out the ones that burned you, which we now know is inaccurate. Simply put, all freckling and tanned skin is damaged.”

The concept of SPF was introduced in the 1960’s. However, the amount added to suntan lotions was very low, around 2-4 SPF. The additives were often thick and oily and didn’t rub into the skin very well.

Woman putting on sunscreen
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, tanning oils became more popular. At the same time, researchers were making progress in figuring out the effects of UV rays and creating sunscreens with sweat and water protection. Despite all of this, the media advertised sunbathing as the best way to take care of your skin. Summers elaborates, “Most of my patients who applied iodine or baby oil to tan have more skin cancers, wrinkles, and sunspots than my patients who did not. The people who practiced good sun protection back then actually have more youthful skin now.”

Finally, in the 1990’s UVA blockers were added to sunscreen and spray and gel sunscreens started getting more popular. SPF’s were also available in everyday products and higher SPF’s were seen more frequently.

Presently, the FDA regulates sunscreen labels to make them easy for consumers to understand. SPF levels are clearly stated on the labels, as is the fact of whether or not the sunscreens are broad spectrum. Vague descriptions like ‘sunblock’ and ‘waterproof’ are no longer used.

Despite all of this, dermatologists still stress covering up as the best way to avoid skin cancer and sun damage. When this is not possible, individuals should wear hats and sun protective clothing and apply a broad spectrum sunscreen daily, that is effective against UVA and UVB rays. Summers adds, “If you are insistent on looking tan, use a self-tanning product that also has an included sunscreen with SPF 30 or above. It is a myth that the self-tanner alone provides adequate protection from the sun.”

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