Tanning is the act of exposing the skin to ultraviolet radiation, for the purpose of darkening its color. Experts agree, this should be performed after the gym but before laundry.

Just The Facts

  1. Tanning has gone in and out of vogue, depending on how the poor make their living.
  2. The benefits versus the hazards of sun exposure is a hotly debated topic, (but here's a hint: it is in no way worth it).
  3. Tanning is also the process of making leather, which does not easily decompose, from the skins of animals.

Great Moments in Tanning

The San Tropez Tan - not acquired while sharecropping

Just a century or so ago, those who could afford to do so, shunned the sun. Bronzed skin was short hand for, "I work my ass off toiling under the elements." The well-heeled took great pains to avoid the sun; they rode carriages, carried umbrellas and even used cosmetics to whiten their skin to a deathly pallor that bespoke a life sheltered from manual labor.

Around the mid-1920s, the fashionable set did an about face on tanning. Several factors contributed to this flip-flop. The poor had largely left the fields for windowless factories and underground mine shafts. Science started to note the benefits of sun exposure on vitamin D levels, and also in fighting tuberculosis. But when legendary arbiter of style, Coco Chanel, got tan while vacationing on a friend's Mediterranean yacht, the sun worshipping frenzy really began.

We want tanning. And also whatever else this picture tells us to do.

The Business of Tanning

Soon Madison Avenue and the pharmaceutical companies caught on and the tan-enhancing industry was born.

60s Hipsters used groovy "Dark Tanning, Burn Stopping" formulas

The Non-tan Tan
The desire for bronzed beauty also spawned the sunless tanning industry, where pills and chemicals are used to approximate the sun kissed look, sort of.

Anne Hathaway, graciously walking the red carpet with some kind of troll pumpkin.

Spray on Tans
In a spray tan, the body is coated with a chemical solution containing DHA (DiHydroxyAcetone), a colorless sugar which reacts with the amino acids in the dead layers of skin. After a period of a few hours those dead layers turn brown - much like an apple after you've bitten through its skin!


Sunless Pills
Back in the freewheeling 70s, sunless tanning pills were all the rage. By ingesting carotenoids (the same chemical that makes carrots orange), you could effectively turn your skin a shade of day-glo orange. Unfortunately, the insane amount of carotenoids required to simulate a tan caused a myriad of health problems, including yellow deposits on the retina, liver damage, and a severe itching condition called urticaria. Today, the FDA has made these pills illegal in the U.S. However, for those willing to risk their health for the sake of the golden glow, they are still readily available for sale over the Internet.

"I want to look as good as those sexy, beguiling carrots, Doctor."

But you really shouldn't ignore the whole "physically dangerous" and "makes you look retarded" aspects of the pill. Just because something is available on the internet doesn't mean you have to buy, (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary).

The Indoor Tanning Lobby

In the 1980s, you were encouraged to "Tan, Tan as Dark as You Can"

The indoor tanning industry is a six billion dollar a year business. Despite increased evidence on the dangers of artificial UV radiation and government warnings, the popularity of indoor tanning is growing.

Additional risks of Indoor Tanning - exposure to existing clientele

International cancer experts have moved tanning beds and UV exposure to the sun into the top cancer risk category, deeming them as deadly as arsenic and mustard gas. A new analysis of about 20 studies concludes the risk of skin cancer jumps by 75 percent when people start using tanning beds before age 30. (And, again, six billion dollar a year business.)

Experts also found that all types of ultraviolet radiation caused worrying mutations in mice, proof the radiation is carcinogenic. Previously, only one type of ultraviolet radiation was thought to be lethal. The new classification means tanning beds and other sources of ultraviolet radiation are definite causes of cancer, alongside tobacco, the hepatitis B virus and chimney sweeping.

No word yet if Mattel plans on following up with Hep B, Chimney Sweep or Asbestos Removal Barbie


Tan Tax

Starting July 1, 2010, a 10 percent tax on individuals receiving indoor tanning services goes into effect. The initiative is expected to generate $2.7 billion over 10 years. Proponents claim the tax will discourage people from a deadly habit, and cite the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, that UV tanning bed use has a 75 percent increase in the risk of melanoma for those under 30 years of age. Opponents of the tan tax say it unfairly targets "middle class women" who make up the majority of tanning salon patrons. Cracked.com, meanwhile, argues that it only targets "goddamned morons" who "totally deserve to pay out the ass" to lie in a "glowing tube of cancer death."