Postmortem Tanning: An Unusual Postmortem Event

Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2023 May 16. doi: 10.1097/PAF.0000000000000832. Online ahead of print.


A variety of changes, many predictable and others more aberrant, occur during the postmortem interval. A number of these changes are largely influenced by various environmental conditions. We describe 3 cases of an unusual postmortem change associated with prolonged sunlight exposure in both frozen and nonfrozen individuals. In each case, very well-delineated, dark tanning lines were present where clothing or another object blocked sunlight. This change appears distinct from mummification and scant literature references that describe a tanned skin transformation in cases associated with burials in high salt-containing bogs. Collectively, the cases highlight a novel postmortem phenomenon known as postmortem tanning. The potential mechanism(s) of this change is discussed within the context of known observations. Increased recognition and knowledge of postmortem tanning are exceedingly important in assessing how this change may assist in postmortem scene analysis.