One of the primary reasons why travelers who live in northern climates head off to fair-weather vacation spots is to smooth on suntan lotion, pass hours soaking in sunshine, and emerge with their skin browned by the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. Not everyone who desires tanned skin has the time or inclination to stay in the sun for the time needed to obtain brown skin. As a result, artificial means
Sunlamps are the primary non-natural method of acquiring a tan. A sunlamp is a source of light that generates UV rays, resulting in an artificially produced but natural-looking tan. Some sun-lamps feature adjustable lamp heads that can be pointed at any angle, so that the user can focus the light on a specific body part. Smaller lamps are specifically designed as facial tanners.
Sunlamps became fashionable during the 1960s, when beach culture was popularized in the California-oriented songs of such rock groups as the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean and on screen in such teen-oriented movies as Beach Party (1963), Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). Teens and young adults wished to look as tan and attractive as Frankie Avalon (1940–) and Annette Funicello (1942–), the popular stars of the Beach Party films. If they did not live in warm climates and have daily access to the sun, they could purchase sunlamps and tan themselves indoors. During the 1960s artificial tanning creams also became available. Such products as Rapid Tan, QT (Quick Tan), Tan-O-Rama, and Man-Tan featured dihydroxyacetone, a colorless substance that turned the skin dark brown. The downside to such products was that they irritated the skin and stained clothing, and the tans they produced often were uneven or blotchy.
In the 1970s and 1980s more and more Americans became concerned with feeling fit and looking good and, as a result, indoor tanning salons opened up across the country. Tanning salons were businesses that featured tanning beds, located in separate booths or rooms to insure privacy. Customers relaxed on the clamshell-shaped beds, while their bodies were exposed to the artificial sunlight generated by the tubular bulbs that surrounded them. Booths were equipped with timers to prevent overexposure to the light. At this time tanned skin became so associated with physical fitness and vigor that tanning beds and sun lamps even were featured in health clubs, which primarily existed to allow their members to lift weights, run on treadmills, ride stationary bicycles, or play tennis.
Tanned skin had developed a reputation as a signal of health, but by the mid-1970s that idea had started to be challenged. Scientists discovered that although exposure to sunlight or the artificial light produced by sunlamps may allow the body to manufacture Vitamin D, which plays a primary role in building bones and teeth, only a tiny quantity of light is required for all the Vitamin D the body needs. Scientists also determined that even a moderate amount of the UV radiation that causes the skin to darken also harms the body's immune system. Exposure to UV rays has been linked to the early aging of skin, causing it to look rough and leathery and, more seriously, can cause malignant melanoma, a deadly skin cancer. The negative effects of tanning often are not immediately apparent. Young people in their teens or twenties may not suffer the ill-effects of tanned skin until middle or old age.
Despite these health concerns, tanning salons remain popular. In the early twenty-first century over 28,000 tanning salons were open for business across the United States. Additionally, relaxing and playing in the sun continue to be favorite pastimes, and beach resorts remain popular vacation destinations.
Sweet, Cheryl A. "Healthy Tan"—A Fast-Fading Myth. Rockville, MD: Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Food and Drug Administration, 1990.
Waud, Sydney P. Sunbathing: The Healthy Way to a Perfect Tan. New York: Mayflower Books, 1979.