Trends, habits and attitudes towards suntanning

Coll Antropol. 2008 Oct;32 Suppl 2:143-6.


Epidemiological studies suggest a relationship between suntanning habits and high risk of malignant melanoma (MM). The incidence of MM is increased during the last 40 years. Sun exposure is highly prevalent in all age groups, especially among young and it is influenced by certain believes and attitudes towards suntanning and stimulated by peer pressure and aesthetic references. What is the cause of higher incidence of MM? Is it only trend and attitudes towards suntanning? A prototype of a young female of 21st century is attractive, slim, with bronze complexion, dresses in the bathing suit, whereas the lady of the 19th is pale, dressed in white dress and with hat or sunshade that protects face and hair from the sun. When did social mores and medical knowledge about sun exposure change? A critical interplay occurred between the end of 19th century and the start of the 20th century with significant success of phototherapy and the growing popularity of sunbathing which reflected number of social changes. During the same time of invigoration of sun exposure, appeared the first reports about correlation between sunlight and skin cancer, but without significant repercussion on medical profession and therefore without knowledge of the public. The 1920s and 1930s were highlighted with the great discovery that ultraviolet wavelengths less than 313 nm played the role in vitamin D synthesis which prevents rickets. Numerous other medical benefits were soon attributed to the sunlight. Finally, the cancerogenity of UV light came to attention when scientist succeeded in induction of skin cancer in rodents after UV light exposure. The etiology of sunlight in development of skin cancer was mentioned in scientific articles and public magazines in 1940s and 1950s. Over the decades the message that sunlight exposure leads to increased risk of skin cancer, reach the public. But despite the knowledge, even at present people believe that tan person looks healthier. Additional and continuous educational campaigns are needed for changing people's behavior.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Social Change
  • Sunbathing / history
  • Sunbathing / trends*
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects