Tanning – and Burning.

We are all now fully aware of the potential hazards of exposure to the sun. Even here, in the relatively un-sunny climate of the British Isles, most of us know a few people who have had treatment for malignant moles or early signs of skin cancer.

Back in the 1950s, there was suntan lotion available but the emphasis was more on soothing burnt skin after the event. In our house this was done using calamine lotion.

Calamine Lotion for 27 and a half a pence old money | High school memories,  Calamine lotion, School memories
This one is post-decimalisation so 1970s – but it looked exactly the same in the 1950s when I was young.

Doing my research for this post, I have learned that the early creams were meant to reduce the burning whilst allowing you to acquire a ‘healthy tan’. We all now know that ‘healthy tan’ is a misnomer. These early creams and oils were designed to reduce burning from UVB light but didn’t filter out UVA light which gives you a tan but also causes cancer. These early potions were called suntan lotions/ creams because the aim was to help you get a tan. The term ‘sun protection’ was never heard as the wasn’t seen as something we needed protecting from.

The History of Sunscreen
The artist behind this iconic Coppertone suntan lotion ad died in 2006. Joyce Ballantyne Brand drew the image of a puppy tugging at the bathing suit of a little girl in 1959. Her daughter, Cheri Brand Irwin, was the model for this ad.

Ambre Solaire ~ Anonym

In the 1920s and 30s, the very rich and the aristocratic were flocking to the French Riviera whereas the normal working person was not legally entitled to paid holiday leave until 1939. Until the late 1960s, the sunny holiday abroad was still the preserve of the better off. So for many decades a tan had been seen as a sign of wealth. With the rise of the package holiday through the 1970s, more and more people were able to afford to take a holiday in the sun but it was a while longer before our ideas about tanning caught up.

All images gleaned from Google Images, Pinterest and Wikipedia. I make every effort to use only pictures which I believe I am at liberty to use. If anyone feels that I have inadvertently infringed copyright please contact me and I’ll remove the offending image. Thanks too, to Britain’s Science Museum for some interesting facts on the history of sun protection.

12 thoughts on “Tanning – and Burning.

  1. During the 1960’s the fad was to mix baby oil and iodine together and smear it on. Also, to speed up the tanning process a piece of aluminum foil would be placed inside a double-lp album cover and used as a solar-reflector. Lots of regrets years later!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I still use Calamine lotion, but for skin problems not the sun. I’ve a bottle of it in the bathroom right now! 🙂

    My parents always used Cooltan (did you use that at all?) I loved the smell of it – rather like cinnamon – but hated the sensation of it on my skin but, when I was a child, my mother would always spread it on me, almost like butter on bread! I still have a scan of an ad from the inside of one of the packets. Myself, though – I’m very fairskinned, so I don’t stay out in the sun for more than ten minutes or I look like a lobster!

    I think the sun has got stronger in recent years, so our idea that it was ‘bad’ in the old days of our youth, is actually (mostly) wrong. My dad used to spend hours sunbathing, he’d get very dark but rarely burned. Some people can – many can’t.

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