Never mind the little black dress; Coco Chanel’s most lasting contribution to the world of style—and, unfortunately, to dermatology—may well be the suntan. For centuries, in a fashion statement freighted with racial undertones, women around the world coveted a fair complexion. Ancient Egyptians lightened their skin with myrrh and frankincense. Eighth-century Japanese women risked death, using lead and mercury as whiteners. Intent on showing they had never needed to labor under the sun, 18th-century Europeans followed suit, adding whale blubber for good measure.1 The Castilian nobles cultivated skin so translucent their veins showed through, making them the original “blue bloods.”2
Fitzpatrick L. From Elizabeth Bennet to Barbie: Sun Tanning Through the Ages. JAMA Dermatol. 2014;150(4):406. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.10436
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