The History Of Fake Tan, From Tea bags To Self Tan

By Darla
In Blog
Mar 11th, 2014

Up until the 1920s, tanned skin was a sign of poverty, whilst creamy white complexion was the quintessence of beauty and cleanliness. If you’ve seen Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby movie or Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge you’ll get the picture. Powdery, pale skin that rarely saw the sun was a sign of glamour until (it is believed) Coco Chanel herself  brought in the bronzed goddess look. Returning from her holiday in Cannes on her yacht  in 1923 with a bronze glow launched a fad. Soon after suntan was no longer seen as distasteful and linked to labour. Celebrities and socialites were flocking to tropical destinations during the winter, using sunlamps to darken their porcelain skin. Sunburns were common. So was lying out in the sun for hours.

During the Second World War, creative women used Tea Bags to create a natural looking tan or Gravy granules gave just the right shade of colour (yes, really!). To mimic the appearance of stockings however, a different method was used, after using the tea bag/gravy granuels women would seam with a black eyeliner up the back of each leg, stockings were successfully faked.

But in the 1950s, Eva Wittgenstein, a researcher at a Cincinnati hospital who had been treating children with a rare metabolic disorder, noticed that when the medicine she was using splattered, it stained the patients bodies but not their clothes. Curious, Wittgenstein painted her own skin with the solution, which contained dihydroxyacetone (DHA)  a chemical derived from sugar cane. Within hours these patches turned brown. Soon the miraculous substance was bottled into products like Copper tone QT, which promised 1960s-style convenience: bronze yourself while you sleep; “tan groom” your legs, so you won’t need stockings. DHA produced the colour changes by what was called a Maillard reaction, browning the top layer of human skin much the same way a steak browns as it cooks. The reaction turned some people as orange as Oompa-Loompas.

So there you have it,  From tea bags to self tan 

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