When Did Tanning Become Popular

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As little as two decades ago, you couldn’t open a magazine or watch a movie without being bombarded with the images of tanned or bronzed skin flitting across your screen.

Tanning used to be a big deal, with people spending thousands of dollars trying to make it look like they had spent countless hours on a beach.

But when did tanning become popular? And what were the most popular tanning methods used as technology advanced?

In this article, we’ll look at tanning trends and tanning history!


Pallor: The Ultimate Sign of Wealth and Esteem

Before the 1900s, pale skin was one of the biggest signs of wealth and esteem.

Tans, freckles, or sun damage were for peasants, and these skin colorings or blemishes were associated with those who spent time outdoors doing manual labor. 

When the wealthy dared to venture outdoors, they covered every inch of skin that they possibly could with clothing, hats, and umbrellas.

Claude Monet immortalized this look in 1870 with this famous painting of his wife at the beach.

Camille on the Beach at Trouville Source :Wikipedia

Their place was indoors, sipping tea and entertaining guests. 

Coco Chanel and the Birth of Tanned Skin

In the early 1920s, pictures of Coco Chanel sporting darker, sun-kissed skin circulated around the world.

Having spent too much time sunbathing on a cruise, Chanel sent the world into a frenzy, and as such, tanning as we know it today was born. 

Gone was the white skin so revered by the wealthy, and the new popular look featured bronzed skin and a healthy glow. But with no products or technology available (other than maybe baby oil or coconut oil) to assist in achieving a sun-kissed look, many took to relaxing in the sun for a few hours. 

Tanning Products and Technologies

The world’s very first tanning lamp was introduced in the early 30s. This was considered an easy way to achieve a tanned look without having to spend hours in the sun.

The release of self-tanner in 1958 changed the game significantly, and beautifully browned skin (or orange or green) was only a bottle away. 

By the 1960s, tanned skin had become the norm.

Tanning oils became a hit as color movies were released, and tanned skin remained popular. Soon everyone was sporting tanned skin to mimic their cinematic heroes, and the tanning oil and tanning product market experienced a boom like never before. 

The very first commercial tanning beds were released in the U.S. in 1978, allowing women (and men) everywhere to get that gorgeous glow without having to spend hours in the sun or outdoors. Perfect for both working women and stay-at-home moms, tanning beds and booths were the go-to for gorgeously tanned skin in a fraction of the time.

Tanning beds were available worldwide in the 1990s and were considered the most convenient way to get that gorgeous glow. 

What Changed?

Fast forward a few decades to the 2000s, and there has been a dramatic decrease in the use of sunbeds.

Self-tanning products and supplements are still being used, but it seems that the lily-white skin of the industrial era is once again the beauty look to aim for. 

After extensive research into the causes of skin cancer and other skin ailments, tanning beds have declined in popularity (though they’ve also morphed into combination tanning beds/light therapy devices).

Now, there is a significant focus on wearing high sun protection factor creams even on cloudy days, with many preferring pale skin over the bronzed look that was so revered less than 20 years ago. 

Another tanning alternative that has become increasingly popular is the use of supplements to achieve a tan “from the inside.” Have you noticed how many Europeans manage to maintain their glow all year round?

That is all thanks to supplements like Beta-Carotene (the pigment that makes a carrot orange) that are marketed as tanning agents.

Beta-Carotene and Tanning from the Inside

Beta-Carotene is a risky supplement used excessively or incorrectly and can turn your skin a lovely range of orange. Available from any health or supplement store, many people take beta-carotene for its bronzing effect.

Taking this supplement boosts your body’s ability to produce melanin, which is responsible for that gorgeous glow without hours in the sun. 

But, there are a few dangers and risks you should be aware of. They are:

  • Incorrect dosage or use can lead to stomach and liver problems
  • Overuse could turn your skin orange
  • Can contribute to vision changes or loss
  • They offer no UV protection and could still cause severe sunburn
  • Liver toxicity and kidney damage

There is a saying that goes, “you can never get too much of a good thing,” but in this case, too much can be fatal.

It is recommended that beta-carotene be ingested in small doses and preferably in natural sources like carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and more.

Yellow, orange, and green vegetables are all excellent sources of beta-carotene and carotenoids that will keep your skin healthy and protected. 

The Future of Tanning

Over the past several years, it has felt like tanning has become a thing of the past as models, celebrities, and the wealthy once again exhibit pale skin on runways, in movies, and in magazine spreads. This is going to be an extremely big blow to the tanning industry and its wide variety of products that have enjoyed popularity for many years. 

But, as we all know, fashion and style change regularly, and what is considered “in” today could be out tomorrow, and vice versa. 

Scientists, doctors, and researchers, however, continue to stress the importance of protecting one’s skin by wearing high sun protection factor creams, oils, and lotions.

However, technology and science march on (as does the market)! Over the past few years, there have been many new self-tanning products that have broken through on the market, with tanning waters and tanning drops leading the way in a more natural-feeling way.

And many celebrities and influencers are now once again starting to embrace darker skin tones and tan colors.

Plus who doesn’t love the beach and the sun?


Without a doubt, tanning became a popular pastime in the early 1900s, starting in Europe and spreading across the world.

Later understanding of the dangers of tanning has tempered that popularity, particularly when it comes to tanning beds.

Now, with so many options available that are safe, easy to use, and often available at home, we are in a golden age of tanning once again!

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).