Suntanning: differences in perceptions throughout history

Mayo Clin Proc. 1997 May;72(5):461-6. doi: 10.4065/72.5.461.


In ancient times, the sun was venerated as a source of life in some cultures. Scientifically, the relationship between vitamin D and sunlight and the deficiency of vitamin D in patients with rickets were ultimately discovered. In 1903, Niels Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology for his "Finsen light therapy" for infectious diseases, especially lupus vulgaris. In the 1930s and 1940s, the medical profession promoted sunbathing as beneficial for children. From these bases, the popularity of suntanning emerged, promoted by the availability of more leisure time and, eventually, the development of sunlamps and commercial tanning salons. Although the precise role of ultraviolet light in the pathogenesis of melanoma is uncertain, a melanoma epidemic began to be noticed in the 1970s. During the past 15 years, campaigns have attempted to educate the public about the potential dangers of suntanning and exposure to ultraviolet light. Whether the melanoma epidemic can be reversed remains to be seen.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Health Education / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Melanoma / history
  • Skin Neoplasms / history
  • Sunburn / complications
  • Sunlight* / adverse effects
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects