Pop Culture & The History of Sunless Tanning


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Pop Culture & The History of Sunless Tanning

If you’re a history nerd like me and you love spray tans, you’ll find this blog post pretty cool!

I have always loved the feeling of having beautiful, glowy skin. I felt healthier, skinnier, more toned, and I felt little need to wear makeup. Even throughout the dreaded “orange spray tan era” (which is now over, I promise!) I always wanted my pale, freckly skin to be tanned. I loved it and it made me feel GOOD! It was an immediate confidence boost. There were bronzers, uv tanning beds, creams, mousses, and spray booths that I counted on faithfully to help me get that bronzed skin I consistently sought after. Once discovering the art of spray tanning, I decided I wanted to show people how good they really can feel in their own skin. I am now 3x certified and a master sunless tanning artist. I absolutely love my job!

Nowadays, sunless tanners are applied by trained professionals using a high-volume, low-pressure gun and turbine. The techniques used today ensure the perfect amount of product is applied and blended into the skin. The products are safe and manufactured based on different skin types and skin tones, making it flawless and natural-looking. To be quite honest, I think spray tans look so much nicer than natural tans from the sun or tanning beds. I can now get my desired look with absolutely no weird lines or patches in less than 10 minutes, which used to take me 2-3 weeks of going back and forth to the tanning salon. There are so many reasons you should stay away from tanning beds, but that’s another post for another time! Let’s talk sunless tanning, and where did it first come from?

Sunless tanning, or spray tanning as many people call it, has been around for nearly one hundred years. Even over the past twenty years, spray tanning has come such a long way (anyone remember Paris Hilton looking orange AF?) However, it is still super important to choose a sunless artist who is well trained and knows what they are doing. (Donald Trump, anyone? I need to know where this poor man gets his spray tans!)

Before the 1920’s, women desired having a light complexion. Tanned skin was a sign of poverty, whereas pale skin that never saw the sun was a sign of glamour and luxury. In 1923, the tanned-skin trend became popular by fashion icon and designer Coco Chanel, when she spent too much time in the sun on a yacht trip, and returned to the spotlight with a beautiful tan. Sunbathing soon became popular, as celebrities and socialites flocked to the south during the winter or used sunlamps to darken their skin. Sunburns were common, and skin cancer rates began to increase.

Travelling to warmer destinations wasn’t always an option for everyone. During WWII, women were known to have used tea bags to darken their skin. Less than 10 years later, the first tanning product that contains DHA (dihydroxyacetone) was put on the market. DHA is the same ingredient used in tanning products today. This new product on the market was called “Man Tan”. The DHA in the tanning product binds to the amino acids on the outermost layer of skin, turning it brown.

Dihydroxyacetone was first discovered by a German scientist in the 1920’s who used it in the X-ray process. In the 1950’s, DHA was also used to treat glycogen storage disease, a metabolic disorder caused by enzyme deficiencies and the buildup of complex sugars in the body. DHA is originally derived from sugar beets and sugar cane, so this makes sense that this would be an effective form of treatment. The same doctor that was providing these treatments continued her research on DHA, discovering that it does not penetrate farther than the outermost layer of skin. They eventually used DHA to treat vitiligo, a skin condition characterized by lack of pigmentation. At this point in time, DHA was not approved by the FDA, and wasn’t until 1973 when it was added to the list of approved cosmetic ingredients.

In 1960, Coppertone introduced the first ever sunless tanning lotion. This was marketed as an overnight gradual tanner known as “Quicktan,” which a lot of us are still familiar with today. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, as skin cancer rates really began to surge, people turned to other ways to tan their skin by using products such as cosmetic bronzers. One product that was popular in the 70’s was called “Max Factor liquid bronzer”, and was used by Elizabeth Taylor to darken her skin when she played her iconic role of Cleopatra.

Throughout the 90’s, tanning beds were still quite popular, but in 1999 Mystic Tan launched its first ever uv-free spray tanning machine booth. Have you guys ever seen the Friends episode from 2003, the one with Ross’ tan? If you have not, please do yourself a favour and CLICK HERE. You're welcome! 

So, that brings us to the late 2000’s, when the sales of self tanning lotions and spray tans dropped 20% from the previous year. Many people think that the pale-faced characters from the series Twilight were to blame, it’s first movie hitting theatres in 2008. 

Regardless of what happened in 2008, the spray tanning industry is booming. BBC has recently reported that St. Tropez, a popular manufacturer of self-tanning products, sells approximately 3 bottles of sunless tanning mousse PER SECOND, worldwide. That is a lot of sunless tanner!!! Although the sunless tanning industry is still considered quite new, we now know that it has in fact been around much longer than we think! 

It is clear that uv-free tanning has come such a long way since it first hit the market ages ago. Sunless tanning is now a billion dollar industry and will just continue to grow, with new products coming out on the market every day. Make sure to always do your research on products and sunless tanning artists, as there will always be questionable products and practices in every industry. 

Happy sunless tanning!


XO Caroline



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