Our Tanning Obsession

April 25, 2019

Our Tanning Obsession

Globally per capita Ireland is the second largest consumer of false tan after Sweden but before the United Kingdom. Owing to our northerly latitude this may come as no surprise. But where did this obsession with sunless tanning begin?

The cultural aesthetic for the bronzed look has fallen in and out of favour over the years and across the continents. In the late eighteenth century, the gentry of the Victorian era took great care to shield their porcelain complexions from the sun’s rays, at that time unaware of the damaging effects of ultra violet light, the main objective of their pallor was to signal that their position in society was one of wealth, class and refinement. They enjoyed leisurely indoor pursuits and when outdoors their corseted full-length attire, together with frilled bonnets and parasols provided further protection, precautions that any modern-day dermatologist would be proud of.

Our Tanning Obsession

The cultural desire for pale skin has remained to this day across many Asian countries again for this very reason. In ancient China skin tone was also indicative of one’s wealth and status in society, the poorer farm workers and labourers due to the nature of their work, would inevitably reveal itself in a darker skin tone.

Today the desire for the paler aesthetic still exists where consumers are influence led and aspire to their perception and ideals of western beauty. Demand for skin lightening creams continues to heighten year on year, the forecasted market is valued to be almost USD 8.9 billion by 2024 [1]

Returning to western culture post World War One, where it’s aftermath brought with it vast changes in political and economic policy but also a huge shift in societal and cultural values.

One prominent figure in social circles at the time was Coco Chanel. Her famous sartorial style redefined the silhouette of the fashionable woman following the war. Gone were the uncomfortable constraints of the corseted form to be replaced with comfortable practical designs which became her trademark look. The Chanel influence extended beyond luxury clothing and fragrance, it is widely believed that it was Coco Chanel that first made tanning popular in social circles at the time.

On returning form a sojourn at her villa “La Pausa” [2] in the French Riviera, she was sporting an obvious sun kissed glow and this did not go unnoticed. She popularised tanning making it not only fashionable but acceptable. A tan denoted a life of leisure and privilege, those with wealth could travel and seek the sun, unlike the indoor factory workers or those living in smog filled cities.

The sun was also hailed as being beneficial to health, in 1920 it was discovered that rickets was caused by a lack of Vitamin D. Patients that were exposed to periods in the sun saw an improvement in their condition.The knowledge at the time that the sun could also
provide health giving benefits fueled its popularity even further.

The serendipitous discovery of false tan came in the early 1950’s. [3]
While Doctor Eva Wittgenstein was working in the children’s hospital at the University of Cincinnati. She was studying the effects of large doses of oral sugars in children with a glycogen storage disorder. She continually noted that some hours after the children vomited the sweet solution, brown markings appeared on the skin around their mouths.

Doctor Wittgenstein, curious as to what was causing this pigmentation prepared solutions of varying concentrations and was able to replicate this pigmentation on her own skin. This solution known as Dihydroxyacetone or (DHA) is a simple sugar or saccharide and it is the primary ingredient used in sunless tanning products. It is often derived from plant sources such as sugar beets and sugarcane.

The first commercial sunless tanning range came from the makers of Coppertone in the 1960’s and was named Quick Tan or QT, early formulations usually gave an offputting uneven orange application.

Nowadays more natural brown and golden hues are obtained due to a refinement in the DHA process, improved penetration and lower pH levels in wash off and wear off formulations. Our understanding of the  damaging effects of Ultra Violet light are widely known. With the continuous refinement of sunless tanning formulas we can safely achieve that sun kissed glow.

Presently at Skin Saviours we carry two sunless tanning ranges, Bare by Vogue Williams and James Read Tan.

References noted but not linked;
[1] Industry News Centre Friday 19th April
[2] Wikipedia “The life of “Coco Chanel”
[3] Rose Hulman Institute of Technology



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