Fun Fact: Coco Chanel, the iconic fashion designer and famous for her creation of the LBD (Little Black Dress), is credited by most sources for the advent of our current tanning culture . The story goes that she got quite a lot of sun during a vacation to the French Riviera in the 1920s, and upon returning, people saw her sporting her tan, and the rest is history.
Believe it or not, that highly sought-after “golden glow” has not always been the way to go. Historically, in European countries, being as pale as possible was the social norm. When it comes to beautiful, pale and powerful European leaders, Elizabeth I of Great Britain is at the top of the list.
Given, during Elizabeth I’s time, social norms were different. Rich aristocrats powdered themselves to be pale so they wouldn’t be mistaken for peasants. Peasants needed to work outside for survival. Aristocrats were able to recline indoors and “eat cake”.
Since the Industrial Revolution created indoor jobs for most people, a tan is now indicative of having the leisure time to sunbathe. We all see outrageously tan celebrities on television shows and all across the web, and I am beginning to wonder if in our current culture that overly tan people are seen as enviable, or something else?
For instance, the cast of Jersey Shore are obsessive tanners. They sum up daily life: GTL (Gym, Tan, Laundry). To put their influence in perspective, they get paid insane amounts of money per season so we, as an audience, can watch this cycle, with some outrageous arguments and parties thrown in. Additionally, in Toddlers and Tiaras, I have observed an 8-year-old getting a spray tan. And, let’s not forget “tan mom” from New Jersey who after years of tanning looks like a completely different person.
Maybe I have a personal prejudice against “fake” tans as a naturally tan person, but to some people the “benefits” of being tan outweigh the risks involved in doing so. For these people, the four most popular methods of tanning are: tanning beds, spray tans, rub on lotions and old-fashioned lying in the sun. While none of these methods are particularly “healthy” spending time outside can be the “healthiest” way of getting a tan.
The best way to spend “healthy” time in the sun is to wear sunscreen to help block the damaging UVA/UVB rays that are emitted by the sun which can cause burning as well as skin cancer, which, according to the CDC, is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in the United States.
Another benefit of wearing sunscreen is not getting sunburnt, which will turn red, then peel, then if you are lucky it will turn into a tan . . . though more times than not it basically brings you back to a pre-sun state, though with a few more freckles. It all depends on the kind of skin you have, maybe you have the type of skin that turns into freckles after a sunburn, maybe you have the type of skin that doesn’t change at all.
Tanning Beds: Popularized by Jersey Shore, this type of tan is possibly the worst for your health. The beds use UV light to make you tan. One of the problems with this method is that UV rays can cause your cells to mutate, and can result in cancer.
Spray Tans: As seen on Toddlers and Tiaras, it’s the “quick and easy” approach. Spray tans don’t really last a long time, and sometimes, if overdone, can make you turn orange. According to an ABC News report, spray tans contain DHA, a chemical that can promote the growth of malignant tumors.
Rub on Tans: Seen on almost every drug store and grocery store shelf are probably the most widely used. Some of these products also contain DHA, as mentioned before. In addition, if you unevenly distribute the lotion, you’ll get uneven or blotchy tan.
As a final note, try to put on sunscreen every day at least 15 minutes before being exposed to the sun. Wearing sunscreen will protect your skin, as well as hydrate it. But the best tans are the ones that come from not trying to get one.
Go swimming and enjoy some time outdoors, but don’t waste your time damaging your skin. The rule of thumb for sunscreen application: early and often. If you really want to show off your abundance of leisure time, why not take a vacation and come back to show your friends the pictures you took, not your new tan.