The History of Sunless Tanning

by Robyn McCarthy on January 23, 2023
The History of Sunless Tanning

 So where did it all begin?

Tanning is thought to have been made popular by style makers like Coco Chanel in the 1920’s, when she was photographed supporting a suntan in the French Riviera. However up until then, bronzed skin wasn’t the desired look (a move on from the Victorian society status; you didn’t work outside and therefor your skin was paler).

From the 1920’s onwards, a tan signified that you had spare money and time to sunbathe and the tanning trend was reinforced by the introduction of more revealing swimwear and the rebellious Flapper era. Tanning was a way for women to free themselves from the prior conservative Victorian mindset, just like the uptake of drinking, smoking and dancing.

Although, having bronzed skin wasn’t initially widely adopted by westerners in the early tanning crazes. As a result, skin bleaching became a popular choice to rid of post-holiday tan lines. Elizabeth Arden even offered a “Après L'Été” salon treatment to do just that!

It was in the late 1920’s, when Vogue declared that the ‘Sunburn Movement’ had created a whole new beauty category centred around showing off cinnamon hued tans, the first tanning products started entering the market:

  • 1298 : Jean Patou introduced ‘Huile de Chaldée’, the first tanning oil.
  • 1929 : The ‘Glory Of Sun’ aimed to give women a perfect ‘out of the box” tan, which was essentially all-over skin makeup.
  • 1935 : The Ambre Solaire UV-filtering tanning oil was introduced by L'Oréal.
  • 1940s : Coppertone sunblock was invented  (although became hugely popular in 1956 with their ad campaign).
  • 1950’s : DHA was discovered by accident when Eva Wittgenstein noticed  that a medicine she had been testing stained patient’s skin, but not clothes.
  • 1978 : The first modern indoor tanning bed was introduced in the U.S
  • 1998: Mystic Tan was the first mainstream version of spray tan to enter the market

Even though the harmful effects of UV rays were known early on, it didn’t stop people from slathering up in oil and heading onto sunbeds and sun lounges to achieve the deepest of tans possible. However, with the extent of our knowledge today of just dangerous UV rays are, it’s no wonder sunless tanning has gained in popularity over the years.

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