Photo of Cindy Goodrich, and her impressive spray tan at the 2012 Emerald Cup Body Building Expo.
Everything you know about skin tanning is a filthy lie, it turns out, and stems from this anonymous, uncited 1971 Mademoiselle piece: "Up until the '20s, tans carried about as much social cachet as calluses, then suddenly Coco Chanel dared to turn up with a deep... glow and voilà—the bronze age began." Reputable publications like Time and the New York Times Magazine swiftly recounted this terribly written story, and later it blew up the internet, but really, Coco "had nothing whatsoever to do with it." Prior to the article's publication, "her name had never been mentioned in connection with tanning, which was established as a fad before 1920," writes Kerry Segrave in Suntanning in 20th Century America.
Fashion history explores even more techniques from the just-make-some-shit-up school, with people anointing themselves in reverence to the accepted skin-care regimes of the time. Used for 1900s bleachings: ripe tomatoes, wet-burning borax pastes, or mercury-chloride/zinc-sulfate/lead-acetate potions, which were "efficacious, but painful" (Mrs. Henry Symes, LA Times). For sunblock: The '40s recommendation was a dark-red veterinary petroleum jelly, also effective in treating horses' sores, that "looked bad, smelled bad, and made a mess of clothing," writes Kerry. And with the emergence of '60s-era sunless tanning lotions came humiliation and failure. Good Housekeeping describes skin stains resembling "iodine residue," in colors ranging "from pinky orange to muddy yellow-orange." From the British Journal of Dermatology: "The user may induce a streaked and bizarre pattern which may detain him or her in the home for a week until normality [has] been regained."