Tanning not so cool anymore

With summer approaching, in face of the obvious health risks, you may see people begin to flock to the beach to work on their suntan. If you were to ask people’s opinions and preferences related to sun bathing, you would get a divided response. With increased awareness of health issues many people vouch for the health benefits of being sun smart, while others will still readily lie in direct view of the sun all day.

While sun tanning is quite a common activity in 2014, it may be surprising to know that this is a relatively new trend in human history. You’d have to look back to the 60’s to learn how sun tanning became part of western culture. The seamless sun tan had become iconic of female celebrities and film stars such as Brigitte Bardot and was representative of a life of leisure and a rebellion against social norms of the past. It was seen as a signal that such a woman was in control of her own body. However, what began as a minor attitude shift, soon became a full-fledged craze.

With all corners of the media projecting the sun tan ideology, adults and teenagers everywhere were now attempting to imitate what they saw in celebrity clad magazines. To make things worse, technology soon caught up to supply a market for customized and on-demand tanning, and with this the sun-bed was born, a device capable of increasing someone’s risk melanoma by 59% if they are under the age of 35 at the time of use. With tanning beds housed in glamorized ‘salons’, continued celebrity endorsement, and effective marketing, the industry became big business. The claim that a tan gives you a “healthy glow” was and still is central to the marketing tactics of these salons.

The main consequence following the post 60’s craze was a dramatic increase in skin cancers, especially in Australia, which has the highest incidence and mortality rates in the world. This trend has become a big concern for lots of people and has a once again begun to change our perception of the suntan. Unlike Brigitte Bardot, many of today’s female celebrities, including Victoria Beckham and Nicole Kidman have explicitly abandoned the bronzed look, instead choosing to promote their natural colour. The glamour and prestige attached to the tanned look is fading fast, as women are choosing to go with their own natural glow.

Studies show that this downward trend is alive and well across the Australian population. With the number of teenagers preferring a suntan dropping 15% from 2004 to 2011 and 22% amongst adults in the same time period.

Further studies in the area of UV exposure continue to reveal the disadvantages of sun tanning. In the attempt to achieve the seemingly youthful bronzed look, it turns out we are in fact contributing to the very ageing of our skin. Sunbathing breaks up the fibers that keep our skin looking firm and smooth, as a result, speed up the development of wrinkles, blotches, and freckles. Sunbathing to get a tan is certainly not so cool anymore.