The Evolution of Skin Tones: From Ancient Sun Worship to Modern Tanning Trends

The evolution of skin tones

Join us on a journey through the evolution of skin tones

Have you ever wondered about the historical significance of skin tones? From ancient civilizations worshipping sun gods to modern-day perceptions of beauty and status, skin tones have played a significant role in shaping our cultural attitudes. But how did we get here? From the association of pale skin with wealth and purity to the rise of tanning as a symbol of leisure and liberation, join us on a journey through the evolution of skin tones and their impact on human history.

What is the historical relevance of skin tones?

Looking back, every great ancient civilisation worshipped sun gods and goddesses – Apollo, Freyr, Re, and Amaterasu, to name a few. However, for these ancient civilisations, having pale skin symbolised purity and wealth, which meant staying out of the sun. Prejudice around skin colour continued to be an unfortunate part of our history. Perception at times was that people with a darker skin tone were part of a lower social class. This was directly related to their work type, such as outdoor manual labour toiling fields all day in the sun. Meanwhile, people with lighter skin were associated with higher status and living a more comfortable life. 

The norm in western cultures today is the exact opposite. If your skin is tanned, it can be perceived that you can afford to spend time and money on vacations in warm places on the beach. Whereas, in Asian countries, pale skin continues to be desired for another reason. Beachwear was not always as it is today. 

In the early Victorian era, women wore dark flannel bathing dresses and were careful not to expose their skin to the sun. It slowly evolved into the Edwardian swimsuits with bloomers and a woollen dress that continued to camouflage the bodily figure. Over time, the swimsuit became sleeveless, worn typically with black stockings and laced footwear. Until swimwear finally became free enough to go for a swim.

Different skin tones

As the story goes, in 1923, the iconic French designer Coco Chanel went on vacation to the French Riviera and accidentally got sunburnt. When she arrived home, her fans were fascinated by her skin and overall new appearance and started to adopt the look for themselves. The elite tanning in the Riviera was now the ultimate symbol of wealth and privilege. In 1929, she quoted in Vogue, “The 1929 girl must be tanned. A golden girl is the index of chic.” It’s unclear if she was the sole beginning for the tan, but she definitely accelerated its popularity. Sunscreen was yet to be invented… In the decades to come, bikinis at the beach became mainstream and symbolised the widening liberation of women’s freedoms.

Tanning lotions and oils also made their first entry onto the market, taking tanning to a whole new level. Sometime in the ’70s and early ’80s, having a tan suddenly became the trend and was linked to healthy skin and lifestyle, for example, being outdoors, going to the beach and being adventurous. Having a tan also meant you became more desirable and were likened to being from a foreign country.

Woman who is burned through the sun

How have things changed? For the better? Not quite.

Skin cancer rates skyrocketed in the late ’80s globally, and leathery skin was a mark of years out in the sun without ANY sun protection. A single blistering sunburn can nearly double one’s lifetime risk of skin cancer. So, it’s ironic that one of the reasons people tan is to look healthier. Sun protection finally entered our ether in the ‘90s with aggressive TV campaigns, and the word began to spread. We could no longer avoid the ugly truth about skin cancer and skin disease, that it was a real and visible disease that worked quickly through our bodies. It appears leathery, spotty, and aged, well beyond its actual years. But for many, this visualisation was not enough, and the compromise of not being in the sun was (and unfortunately) still non-negotiable.

Although the message is now louder and clearer and many Europeans are more aware of taking sun protection more seriously, there are still just as many million Europeans that don’t take it seriously enough.

Changing behaviors and attitudes towards sun protection can be a gradual process, and it takes continuous education and promotion to encourage more widespread adoption of preventive measures. It’s important for individuals to understand the potential consequences of excessive sun exposure and to take steps to protect their skin, such as using sunscreen, seeking shade during peak sun hours, wearing protective clothing, and using hats and sunglasses. Regular skin examinations and early detection of any unusual changes in the skin are also essential in preventing and treating skin cancer.

sunburn, skin cancer, skin disease

Did you know? In 1981, the music world, unfortunately, lost a Jamaican reggae legend. Beloved Bob Marley died at 36, after a four-year battle with Melanoma skin cancer

A summary of the evolution of skin tones

Skin tones have had a significant impact on human history, influencing cultural and social attitudes towards beauty, purity, and status. Ancient civilizations associated pale skin with purity and wealth, while darker skin was often associated with lower social status and outdoor manual labor. However, in modern Western cultures, tanned skin is often associated with leisure and wealth. The popularity of tanning began in the 1920s, with Coco Chanel’s accidental sunburn, and it became a symbol of chic and liberation. However, skin cancer rates increased in the late ’80s due to sun exposure, and sun protection became more critical in the ’90s. Despite this, many Europeans still do not take sun protection seriously enough.

We would love to here from you and answer your questions you might have. Send us a message on Instagram we can’t wait to hear from you!

You only have 1 version of your skin – don’t forget to protect it as much as possible.



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