It's unofficially summer, which means the reminders to use sunscreen have begun - but as you probably already know, this wasn't the case during the mid-to-late part of the 20th century. It was ALL about getting a sexy tan!
But let's backtrack a bit. Believe it or not, at one time pale skin was in fashion. Way back at the turn of the 20th century, tanned skin was looked down upon because it was associated with farmers and anyone else doing outdoor labor work--in other words, the lower class. Impressionist paintings often show people carrying umbrellas and wearing long sleeves to shield themselves from the sun. It wasn't until the fashion designer and icon Coco Chanel returned from a cruise in the 1920s sporting darker toned skin that the public suddenly considered the look to be chic. We've been paying the price for that ever since, as melanoma cases continue to rise.
From the 50s through roughly the 80s, having a tan was associated with being healthy and sexy. There are literally tons of advertisements from these decades that attest to that belief. Many products touted healthy skin and promised a fast tan. There really wasn't any public awareness of the increase of wrinkles, discoloration and skin cancer that sun exposure would later be associated with. The introduction of the bikini, which exposed more of the female body, no doubt contributed to the popularity of tanning as well.
Indeed, I'm a bit ashamed to admit that as an 80s teenager I was taken in by the St. Tropez ads for Bain du Soleil that featured a sexy model with beautifully glowing, shimmery skin. I shudder to think that as a result I baked my pale Polish skin in my backyard a few times while listening to Sade on my Sony Walkman (it's not Sade that makes me shudder, but of course the thought of purposely lying in the sun's rays.)
What do you know...I found the commercial on YouTube. Interesting how minimal the SPF levels were back then...SPF 2 for the face???
Indeed, sunscreens from a few eras ago didn't have as high a SPF rating as what's available today. The first sunscreen to have a SPF rating of 15 hit the market in 1978. I don't really remember paying attention to SPF ratings until the 80s, however...and I knew a few people who used baby oil and/or UV reflectors while out in the sun!
Yes, these folks were getting their share of vitamin D along with a dose of wrinkles. Today, of course, we're more aware of how the sun can damage the dermis. But in many ways, I don't think the tan has ever truly fallen out of fashion. It amazes me how many people play Russian Routlette with our shrinking ozone layer. They also visit tanning salons, and products that claim to give you a realistic looking "fake" tan are everywhere. I think Western society in general is way too hung up on looking tan instead of just embracing their natural, healthy skin tone. Today, I'm pretty proud of my ivory skin and prefer to keep it that way, with the help of hats, sunglasses, and sunblock. Will we ever learn?
Hi, I'm Pam - thanks for visiting Go Retro! If you've ever been called an old soul like I have, or you were lucky enough to actually live during the mid-20th century in America, then you're in the right place!
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