Back to Top

Suntanning in 20th Century America

The suntan experienced a profound change in the last century. Considered a mark of the lower class for hundreds of years, tanning became a fad in the early 1920s and remains popular today. The tan, though, was much more thana matter of fashion,enjoying at first a boost from the medical establishment. Opinions ranging from hard science to quackery lauded the suntan as something of a panacea. Near the end of World War II, however, researchers increasingly warned against the hazards of overexposure to the sun, and a large new industry developed—sunscreen. Americans’ current paradoxical obsession with the tan developed almost entirely from the conflicting rays of twentieth century thought. This history examines the twentieth century suntan as a social and scientific phenomenon. Beginning with the years 1900–1920, it debunks the myth that changing attitudes toward the tan sprang largely from the world of fashion. Initial pro-tanning medical hype, emerging negative opinions of sunbathing near the middle of the century, the development of sunscreens, the debate over sunscreen efficacy, and the sunless tan are all covered here. Numerous pictures demonstrate changing perceptions of the suntan, displaying advertisements for products that promoted, prevented or healed tans.

Reblogged 5 years ago from


Anonymous says:

The suntan was considered a mark of the lower class for hundreds of years but was resurrected in America as a fad in the 1920s and remains popular today. While the myth remains that the evolution of the tanning trend had its source in fashion, it in fact was lauded by doctors as a panacea for all kinds of ailments until the dangers of overexposure became known. Any interested in the social, fashion or medical history of sun tanning in America will find Kerry Segrave’s Suntanning In 20th Century…

Write a comment