Closing the Door to the Bronze Age

The idea of sunbathing to achieve a tan is a relatively new cultural fad.  As a matter of fact, in almost all of history, women have gone to great lengths to avoid sun damaged skin.  Those who were privileged not to work in the sun were the ones who maintained their naturally fair complexions.  Sun damaged or tanned skin was thought to be a result of manual labor and was associated with lower classes.   Mid-19th century women carried parasols and wore gloves year-round to protect their hands from sun spots.  Women in Japan and China historically powdered their faces to artificially whiten their complexions.  Ingredients for potions used to ward off tans and treat sun damaged skin have even been discovered on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs.  It was only less than one hundred years ago that western civilization fell into the so called “bronze age.”  

In the 1920s fair complexions were still sported across America and Western Europe.  Then, rumor has it, fashion icon, Coco Channel, fell asleep aboard a boat while vacationing in the French Riviera.  When she awoke, she was sunburned.  By the time she returned home, her skin was tanned a golden brown.  Women saw this as a new fashion statement that must be imitated.  In 1929, Coco famously declared “a girl simply has to be tanned,” and Hollywood and the fashion world obediently followed suit.  By the 1960s, swimsuit coverage had shrunken to barely-there sizes, and the tan became the symbol of a life of leisure and the sign of one’s ability to afford exotic vacations.  With the 1970s and 1980s came indoor tanning beds, making tanning more convenient than ever.  Today, sunbathing and tanning bed use are as popular as ever, especially among women ages 18-40, despite our vast knowledge of the frightening dangers associated with such behavior.

Modern science has taught us that tanning both indoors and out is directly linked to the development of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.  In fact, studies have shown that people who go to tanning beds even a few times before the age of 35 increase their risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “over the past 40 years, rates of this deadly skin cancer grew by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men.”  Science has also taught us that 80 percent of premature aging is caused by free radical damage due to exposure to ultra-violet light; thus tanning is the most effective way to ensure that your skin will develop wrinkles and look unattractive in the near future. 

Unfortunately, our culture teaches women that tanned skin is associated with beauty and good health, and 80 percent of women under the age of 25 say that they feel more attractive with a tan.  The truth is, when skin is exposed to UV radiation, DNA is damaged and the skin responds to this damage by creating more pigment in an attempt to protect itself.  According to the FDA, however, tanned skin only provides a sun protective factor (SPF) of about 2 to 4, meaning additional exposure only leads to further damage, and “there is no such thing as a safe tan.”  As westerners become more aware of the dangers associated with tanning, many truly health-conscious individuals are turning away from tanning and instead embracing the beauty of their natural skin tones.  The Skin Cancer Foundation has launched the campaign “Go with Your Own Glow,” encouraging women of all colors to stop associating tanned skin with beauty and to make headway against skin cancer.  Top fashion designers are filling their runways and print ads with women donning a moonlight glow as opposed to sun-kissed skin.  Celebrities such as Anne Hathaway, Charlize Theron, Eva Longoria, and Julianne Moore have publically expressed their commitments to sun protection.   Some states are beginning to pass laws that ban under-age people from using tanning beds.  With these positive cultural changes taking place, it is more important than ever to instill in our children the beauty of their natural skin tones.  Let’s lead by example, embracing new sun-safe technologies such as professional sunscreens and sun-protective clothing and hats.  Let’s close the door on this Bronze Age once and for all, and create a future of truly beautiful, healthy skin.   

Erin Bruton
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