A suntanned arm showing browner skin where it has been exposed. This pattern of tanning is often called a Farmer's tan

Sun tanning or simply tanning is the process whereby skin color is darkened or tanned. The process is most often a result of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or from artificial sources, such as a tanning bed, but can also be a result of windburn or reflected light. Many people deliberately tan their skin by exposure to the sun, called sun bathing, or by the use of artificial tanning methods. Some people use chemical products which can produce a tanning result without exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Moderate exposure to the sun has a beneficial impact, including the production of vitamin D by the body; but excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays has detrimental health effects, including possible sunburn and even skin cancer. To avoid sunburn, most people apply suitable sunscreen to skin exposed to the sun, but others use oils to accelerate the tanning process.

Some people tan or sunburn more easily than others. This may be the result of different skin types and natural skin color, and these may be as a result of genetics. In general, a paler skin color is more quickly burnt than a darker one.

The term "tanning" has a cultural origin, arising from the color tan. Its origin lays in the Western culture of Europe when it became fashionable for young white ladies to seek a less pale complexion.

The tanning process

A tanning bed

See also: Health effects of sun exposure

Tanning is the result of UV radiation from the sun causing direct DNA damage to the skin, which the body naturally combats and seeks to repair. In the process of repairing the damage and protect the skin, the body creates and releases the brown-colored pigment called melanin into the skin's cells, which gives the skin a darker tone, but can also cause sunburn. The tanning process can also be created by artificial UV radiation. Melanin is produced by cells called melanocytes and protects the body from direct and indirect DNA damage by absorbing an excess of solar radiation.

There are two different mechanisms involved. Firstly, the UVA-radiation creates oxidative stress, which in turn oxidises existing melanin and leads to rapid darkening of the melanin. Secondly, there is an increase in production of melanin (melanogenesis),[1] which is the body's reaction to photodamage from UV radiation.[2] Melanogenesis leads to delayed tanning and first becomes visible about 72 hours after exposure.[1] The tan that is created by an increased melanogenesis lasts much longer than the one that is caused by oxidation of existing melanin.

The ultraviolet frequencies responsible for tanning are often divided into the UVA and UVB ranges:


Ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation is in the wavelength range 320 to 400 nm. It is present more uniformly throughout the day, and throughout the year, than UVB. UVA causes the release of existing melanin from the melanocytes to combine with oxygen (oxidize) to create the actual tan color in the skin. It is blocked less than UVB by many sunscreens but is blocked to some degree by clothing.


Ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation is in the wavelength range 280 to 320 nm. UVB:

Dressing for tanning

Tan lines produced by a conventional bikini
Woman seeking maximum sun tan

The wearing of clothing while tanning results in creation of tan lines, which many people regard as un-aesthetic and embarrassing. Many people desire to avoid creation of tan lines in those parts of the body which are visible when they are fully clothed. Some people try to achieve an all-over tan or to maximize their tan coverage. To achieve an all-over tan, the tanner needs to dispense with clothing; and to maximize covering, they need to minimize the amount of clothing they wear while tanning. For those women who cannot dispense with a swimsuit, they at times tan with the back strap undone while laying on the front, or removing shoulder straps, besides wearing swimsuits which cover less area than their normal clothing. Any exposure is subject to local community standards and personal choice. Some people tan in the privacy of their backyard where they can at times tan without clothes, and some countries have set aside clothing-optional swimming areas (also known as nude beaches), where people can tan and swim clothes-free. Some people tan topless, and others wear very brief swimwear, such as a microkini. A recent innovation is tan-through swimwear, which uses fabric which is perforated with thousands of micro holes that are nearly invisible to the naked eye, but which let enough sunlight through to produce a line-free tan. Tan-through swimsuits offer SPF protection of about 6, and an application of full-strength sunscreen is recommended.

To avoid sunburn, most people apply suitable sunscreen to skin exposed to the sun. Because of the potentially harmful which can result from excessive exposure to direct sunlight many people suntan in moderation and wear some clothing, including a hat, and use suitable sunscreen. From time to time they also sit in the shade or cool off in water.

Sunless tanning

To avoid exposure to UVB and UVA rays, or in sunless seasons, some people darken their skin using sunless tanning (also known as self-tanners). A number of types of sunless tanning options are available, including stainers which are based on dihydroxyacetone (DHA); bronzers, which basically are dyes; tan accelerators, based on tyrosine and psolarens; and solaria using in sunbeds and sunlamps.[5]

Many sunless tanning products are available in the form of creams, gels, lotions, and sprays that are self-applied on the skin. Another option is the use of bronzers which are cosmetics that provide temporary effects. There is also a professional spray-on tanning option or “tanning booths” that is offered by spas, salons, and tanning businesses.[6]

Spray tanning does not mean that a color is sprayed on the body, what is used in this process is a colorless chemical which burns the dead cells located on the top layer of the skin resulting in a brown color. The two main active ingredients used in most of the sunless tanners are dihydroxyacetone and erythrulose.[citation needed]

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the use of DHA spray tanning booths because it has not received safety data to support this specific use. DHA is a permitted color additive for cosmetic use restricted to external application. When used in a commercial spray tanning booth, areas such as the eyes, lips or mucous membrane are exposed to the DHA which is a non permitted use of the product.[7]

Tanning controversy

Time lapse photography of several people sunbathing and relaxing on the beach at Pentwater, Pentwater Township, Oceana County, Michigan, USA.

More recently, some researchers have advised that tanning in moderation may be healthier than is commonly believed. Edward Giovannucci, professor of medicine and nutrition at Harvard states that according to his research, people who have sufficient vitamin D due to UV exposure, and other intake, may prevent 30 deaths for each one caused by skin cancer.[8] His research also suggests that diet accounts very little for vitamin D3 necessary for curbing cancer. Michael Holick, Boston professor of dermatology, claimed that moderate exposure to sunlight probably reduces risk to many forms of cancer, diabetes, seasonal affective disorder, and other diseases.[9] These researchers are vigorously opposed by most dermatologists, for example, Dr. Elewski, president of the American Academy of Dermatology, argued that minutes of exposure to sunlight can be dangerous, and that people can get all the vitamin D they need through supplements. Large clinical studies have found vitamin D produced both through exposure to sunlight and through dietary supplements dramatically decreases cancer risk, and helps cancer recovery. See Vitamin D for more details.

In his book Physician's guide to sunscreens Nicholas J. Lowe pointed out that one of the reasons why people reject sunscreen use is the reduction of tanning that is associated with good sunscreen protection.[10] He then reports about several tanning activators. The specific substances which he writes about are different forms of psoralen. These substances were known to be photocarcinogenic since 1979,[11][12][13] but health authorities banned psoralen only in July 1996.[14]

Cultural history

La promenade (1875) by Claude Monet. End of 19th century in the upper social class, people used umbrellas, long sleeves and hats to avoid sun tanning effects.

Throughout history, tanning has gone in and out of fashion. In many early civilizations, a tanned skin was regarded as an indicator of lower class, being associated with outdoor work.[15]

Women even went as far as to put lead-based cosmetics on their skin to artificially whiten their skin tone.[16] However, these cosmetics slowly caused their death through lead poisoning. Achieving this light-skinned appearance was brought about in many other ways, including the use of arsenic to whiten skin, on to more modern methods such as full length clothes, powders, and parasols. This fair-skinned trend continued up until the end of the Victorian era.

In 1903, Niels Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for his “Finsen Light Therapy”.[17] The therapy was a cure for infectious diseases such as lupus vulgaris and rickets. Vitamin D deficiency was found to be a cause of rickets disease, and exposure to the sun would allow vitamin D to be produced in a person. Therefore, sun exposure was a remedy to curing several diseases, especially rickets.

Shortly thereafter, in the 1920s, Coco Chanel accidentally got sunburnt while visiting the French Riviera. Her fans apparently liked the look and started to adopt darker skin tones themselves. Tanned skin became a trend partly because of Coco’s status and the longing for her lifestyle by other members of society. In addition, Parisians fell in love with Josephine Baker, a “caramel-skinned” singer in Paris. Those who liked and idolized her wanted darker skin so they could be more like her. These two French women were two trendsetters of the transformation of tanned skin being viewed as fashionable, healthy, and luxurious.[18][19][20]

In the 1940s, advertisements started appearing in women’s magazines which encouraged sun bathing. At this time, swimsuits' skin coverage began decreasing, with the bikini making its appearance in 1946. In the 1950s, many people used baby oil as a method to tan more quickly. The first self-tanner came about in the same decade and was known as “Man-Tan,” and often led to undesirable orange skin.[16] Coppertone, in 1953, brought out the little blond girl and her cocker spaniel tugging on her bathing suit bottoms on the cover of their sunscreen bottles; this is still the same advertisement they use today on their bottles of sunscreen. In the latter part of the 1950s, silver metallic UV reflectors were common to enhance one’s tan.

In 1962, sunscreen commenced to be SPF rated. In 1971, Mattel introduced Malibu Barbie, which had tanned skin, sunglasses, and her very own bottle of sun tanning lotion. In 1978, tanning beds appeared. Today there are an estimated 50,000 outlets for tanning, whereas in the 1990s there were only around 10,000.[21] The tanning business is a five-billion dollar industry.[21]

In a sunny Brussels park, people sit in the shadow of trees or nearby building to avoid heat.

Also in 1978, sunscreen with a SPF 15 first appeared.

In some countries, fair skin remains the standard of beauty. The geisha of Japan were well-known for their white painted faces, and the appeal of the bihaku (美白), or "beautiful white", ideal leads many Japanese women to avoid any form of tanning.[22] There are exceptions to this, of course, with Japanese fashion trends such as ganguro emphasizing almost black skin. The color white is associated with purity and divinity in many Eastern religions. In India, dark skin is heavily associated with a lower class status, and some people resort to skin bleaching to achieve a skin color they view as more socially acceptable.[23]

Skin tone

Main article: Human skin color § Cultural effects

Skin tone preferences vary by culture. Many historically favored and continue to favor lighter skin in women. In his foreword to Peter Frost's 2005 Fair Women, Dark Men, University of Washington sociologist Pierre L. van den Berghe writes: "Although virtually all cultures express a marked preference for fair female skin, even those with little or no exposure to European imperialism, and even those whose members are heavily pigmented, many are indifferent to male pigmentation or even prefer men to be darker."[24] A consequence of this is that, since higher-ranking men get to marry the perceived more attractive women, the upper classes of a society generally tend to develop a lighter complexion than the lower classes by sexual selection (see also Fisherian runaway).[25]

Studies have shown that lighter skin has generally been preferred in most cultures and races. Exceptions to this have appeared in modern times in Western culture, where tanned skin is often considered more attractive.[26][27][28][29][30] Tanned skin has been shown in the United States to be viewed both as more attractive and more healthy than pale skin.[26][27][28][29] Though sun-tanned skin used to be associated with the sun-exposed manual labor of the lower-class, the associations became dramatically reversed in the mid-20th century, a change usually credited to the trendsetting French woman Coco Chanel making tanned skin seem fashionable, healthy, and luxurious.[20]

Today, and in much of the West, though tanned skin remains desirable, lighter skin is often seen as more attractive, especially in African, Asian, and Latin cultures. Skin whitening products sales grew from $40 to $43 billion in 2008.[31] In Africa, skin whitening is not uncommon,[32] but in the African American community, lighter skin is generally considered more attractive than darker skin. During slavery, light-skinned African Americans were perceived as intelligent, cooperative, and beautiful.[33] Regarding this perception of beauty influenced by racial stereotypes about skin color; the African American journalist Jill Nelson wrote that "to be both prettiest and black was impossible."[34][34]

In Mexico and in Brazil, light skin represents power, as well as attractiveness.[35] A dark-skinned person is more likely to be discriminated against in Brazil.[36] Most South American actors and actresses have European features—blue eyes and pale skin. A light-skinned person is considered to be more privileged and have a higher social status; a person with light skin is considered more beautiful and it means that the person has more wealth. Skin color is such an obsession in these countries that specific words describe distinct skin tones from "hincha," Puerto Rican slang for "glass of milk" to "morena," literally "brown."[37]

In ancient China and Japan, pale skin can be traced back to ancient drawings depicting women and goddesses with fair skin tones. In ancient China, Japan, and Southeast Asia, pale skin was seen as a sign of wealth. Thus, skin whitening cosmetic products are popular in East Asia.[38] 4 out of 10 women surveyed in Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea used a skin-whitening cream, and more than 60 companies globally compete for Asia's estimated $18 billion market.[39] This also occurs in South Asian countries, and in India, pale skin is considered more attractive and skin whitening is prevalent. Most actors and actresses have light skin.[40]

See also


  1. ^ a b Amy Thorlin (5 February 2006). articles/indoor_tanning/729_621feat2.html "The Tanning Process". Lookingfit.com. Retrieved 29 July 2009. ((cite web)): Check |url= value (help) [dead link]
  2. ^ a b Nita Agar; Antony R. Young (2005). "Review: Melanogenesis: a photoprotective response to DNA damage?". Mutation Research/Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis. 571 (1–2): 121–132. doi:10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2004.11.016. PMID 15748643.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ John A. Parrish, Kurt F. Jaenicke, R. Rox Anderson (1982). "Erythema And Melanogenesis Action Spectra Of Normal Human Skin". Photochemistry and Photobiology. 36 (2): 187–191. doi:10.1111/j.1751-1097.1982.tb04362.x. PMID 7122713.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ http://www.who.int/uv/faq/uvhealtfac/en/index.html
  5. ^ "Dihydroxyacetone". Retrieved 6 July 2010.
  6. ^ "Sunless tanning: A safe alternative to sunbathing". Retrieved 6 July 2010.
  7. ^ "Sunless Tanners and Bronzers". Retrieved 6 July 2010.
  8. ^ Health Effects of Tanning and Vitamin D
  9. ^ Vitamin D, Skin Cancer, and the Dermatologists
  10. ^ Lowe, Nicholas J (1991). "Physician's guide to sunscreens". ISSN 0824784960. ((cite journal)): Check |issn= value (help); Cite journal requires |journal= (help), ch. 7 p. 81
  11. ^ Ashwood-Smith MJ. (1979). "Possible cancer hazard associated with 5-methoxypsoralen in suntan preparations". BMJ. 2 (6198): 1144. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.6198.1144-b.
  12. ^ M. J. Ashwood-Smith; G. A. Poulton; M. Barker; M. Mildenberger E (1980). "5-Methoxypsoralen, an ingredient in several suntan preparations, has lethal, mutagenic and clastogenic properties". Nature. 285 (5): 407–409. doi:10.1038/285407a0. PMID 6991953.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Zajdela F, Bisagni E. (1981). "5-Methoxypsoralen, the melanogenic additive in sun-tan preparations, is tumorigenic in mice exposed to 365 nm UV radiation". Carcinogenesis. 1981 (2): 121–7. doi:10.1093/carcin/2.2.121. PMID 7273295.
  14. ^ AUTIER P.  ; DORE J.-F.  ; CESARINI J.-P. (1997). "Should subjects who used psoralen suntan activators be screened for melanoma?". Annals of oncology. 8 (5): 435–437. doi:10.1023/A:1008205513771. PMID 9233521.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Singer, Merrill (28 July 2008). Killer Commodities: Public Health and the Corporate Production of Harm. AltaMira Press. p. 151. ISBN 0759109796. Retrieved 11 September 2009. Harris investigated the history of the parasol... everywhere ordinary people were forbidden to protect themselves with such devices "pallid skin became a marker of upper-class status". At the beginning of the 20th Century, in the United States, lighter-skinned people avoided the sun. ... Tanned skin was considered lower class. ((cite book)): Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  16. ^ a b Agredano, YZ; Chan, JL; Kimball, RC; Kimball, AB (February 2006). "Accessibility to air travel correlates strongly with increasing melanoma incidence". Melanoma Research. 16 (1): 77–81. doi:10.1097/01.cmr.0000195696.50390.23. PMID 16432460.
  17. ^ [1][dead link]
  18. ^ Hanson, M.D., Peter G. "About Face". The Effects of Aging, Health and Stress on Your Face. FaceMaster. Retrieved 11 September 2009. ((cite web)): Check |authorlink= value (help); External link in |authorlink= and |publisher= (help)
  19. ^ "Sun and Clouds: The Sun in History". Magic Bullets - Chemistry vs. Cancer. The Chemical Heritage Foundation . 2001. Retrieved 11 September 2009. By the 1920s, the therapeutic effect of the sun was being widely promoted, and two well-publicized French personalities gave "tanning" a fashion boost. Coco Chanel, of designer fame, returned to Paris after a cruise on the Duke of Westminster's yacht with a tan that became the rage. And the natural caramel skin color of singer Josephine Baker made women all over the world try to emulate her skin tone. ((cite web)): External link in |publisher= (help)
  20. ^ a b Koskoff, Sharon (28 May 2007). Art Deco of the Palm Beaches. Arcadia Publishing. p. 2. ISBN 0738544159. Retrieved 11 September 2009. In 1920s France, the caramel-skinned entertainer Josephine Baker became a Parisian idol. Concurrently, fashion designer Coco Chanel was "bronzed" while cruising on a yacht. A winter tan became a symbol of the leisure class and showed you could afford to travel to exotic climates. ((cite book)): Check |authorlink= value (help); External link in |authorlink= (help)
  21. ^ a b Wright, Dan (11 September 2009). "Working The Tan - Tanning Salons Grow". The Daily News Record Online. The Daily News Record (Harrisonburg, Virginia). Retrieved 11 September 2009. The tanning industry has grown about 25 percent over the past six years, according to the Indoor Tanning Association. Nationwide, about 25,000 free-standing tanning salons employ 160,000 people and generate more than $5 billion in annual revenue, the association said. ((cite web)): Check |authorlink= value (help); External link in |authorlink= and |work= (help)
  22. ^ Mowbray, Nicole (4 April 2004). "Japanese girls choose whiter shade of pale". London: Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 24 May 2010.
  23. ^ Sidner, Sara (9 September 2009). "Skin whitener advertisements labeled racist". CNN.com/asia. CNN. Retrieved 11 September 2009. "We always have a complex towards a white skin, towards foreign skin or foreign hair," Jawed Habib says. Habib should know. He owns a chain of 140 salons located in India and across the world. "We Indian people, we Asian people are more darker, so we want to look more fair." ... A marketing study found sales for skin whitening creams have jumped more than 100 percent in rural India and sales for male grooming products are increasing 20 percent annually.
  24. ^ see Steve Sailer, Blondes Have Deeper Roots (2005)
  25. ^ Peter Frost "Fair Women, Dark Men: The Forgotten Roots of Color Prejudice," (2005).
  26. ^ a b Singer, Merrill (28 July 2008). Killer Commodities: Public Health and the Corporate Production of Harm. AltaMira Press. p. 151. ISBN 0759109796. Retrieved 11 September 2009. Harris investigated the history of the parasol... everywhere ordinary people were forbidden to protect themselves with such devices "pallid skin became a marker of upper-class status". At the beginning of the 20th Century, in the United States, lighter-skinned people avoided the sun... Tanned skin was considered lower class. ((cite book)): Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  27. ^ a b "Use of Sunscreen, Sunburning Rates, and Tanning Bed Use Among More Than 10 000 US Children and Adolescents". pediatrics.aappublications.org. 2002-06-06 (PEDIATRICS Vol. 109 No. 6). pp. 1009–1014. Retrieved 2010-09-14. ((cite web)): Check date values in: |date= (help)
  28. ^ a b http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119318887/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0
  29. ^ a b http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119292742/abstract
  30. ^ http://www.physorg.com/news78679968.html
  31. ^ "Bleaching Creams: Fade to Beautiful?". Northwestern University. 03-10-2010. Retrieved 09-08-2010. ((cite news)): Check date values in: |accessdate= and |date= (help)
  32. ^ "The Heavy Cost of Light Skin". BBC News. 04-18-2000. Retrieved 09-08-2010. ((cite news)): Check date values in: |accessdate= and |date= (help)
  33. ^ "What Are "Good Looks"?". Kenyon College. Retrieved 09-08-2010. ((cite web)): Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  34. ^ a b Jill Nelson (1997). "Straight, No Chaser—How I Became a Grown-Up Black Woman— WHO'S THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL?". New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2009. As a girl and young woman, hair, body, and color were society's trinity in determining female beauty and identity... We learn as girls that in ways both subtle and obvious, personal and political, our value as females is largely determined by how we look.
  35. ^ "Is Light Skin Still Preferable to Dark?". Chicago Tribune. 02-26-2010. Retrieved 09-08-2010. ((cite news)): Check date values in: |accessdate= and |date= (help)
  36. ^ "Racism Takes Many Hues". Miami Herald. 08-24-2007. Retrieved 09-08-2010. ((cite news)): Check date values in: |accessdate= and |date= (help)
  37. ^ Jones, Vanessa E. (08-19-2004). "Pride or Prejudice?". Boston.com. Retrieved 09-08-2010. ((cite news)): Check date values in: |accessdate= and |date= (help)
  38. ^ "Skin Deep: Dying to be White". CNN. 05-15-2002. Retrieved 09-08-2010. ((cite news)): Check date values in: |accessdate= and |date= (help)
  39. ^ http://www.pri.org/world/asia/skin-whitening-big-business-asia.html
  40. ^ "Blackout". Newsweek. 07-03-2008. Retrieved 09-08-2010. ((cite news)): Check date values in: |accessdate= and |date= (help)

Further reading