Who invented Tanning Beds? (Invention Timeline Explained)

The sun influenced people from the beginning of time. At first, the sun was viewed in a spiritual light. Ancient people (Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, etc.) had different versions of a sun god. They used the light and warmth of the sun to thrive, grow crops, and survive. Later on, people started to notice sunlight’s therapeutic and cosmetic effects. We began to lay on shores and just bathe under the sun. We all want caramelized and sun-kissed skin. Suddenly, tanning became a fashion statement and a status symbol.

However, going out to the beach for a perfect tan requires a lot of time and effort, and even long travels for those who live far away from beaches. Luckily, equipment like tanning beds made tanning easier, faster, and more relaxing. But did it ever cross your mind why tanning beds were made in the first place? Who started the indoor tanning trend? This article will reveal the origins of the tanning beds we enjoy nowadays.

Who invented tanning beds?

A German scientist named Friedrich Wolff invented the first tanning beds and lamps. He began selling them in the USA in 1978.

The tanning beds’ key contributors (and evolution)

  • Niels Ryberg Finsen
    Sunlight Can Heal

    Niels Ryberg Finsen’s declining health urged him to be interested in the medical benefits of spending time under the sun. As a result, he conducted further research about the benefits of sun rays in treating various ailments. He won the Nobel Prize because of his research and discoveries.

  • Coco Chanel
    It’s Stylish

    Although Finsen’s discoveries were promising, the public was not very interested. Instead, endorsements of icons and personalities like Coco Chanel made tanning famous. Chanel promoted tanned and darker skin to be desirable and stylish.

  • Friedrich Wolff
    Father of Indoor Tanning

    Tanning became more trendy in the 20th Century. And like any other great invention, the public demanded a faster and more convenient way to get tanned. Friedrich Wolff made indoor tanning possible with the creation of tanning beds and lamps.

  • American Beauticians,
    Mix Cosmetology

    Salon owners and beauty experts took advantage of tanning’s popularity and offered it with other services. For example, they marketed clothes and accessories people could use for indoor tanning. As a result, the tanning industry is now considered a creative and scientific mix of cosmetology.

When were tanning beds invented?

Friedrich Wolff invented the tanning beds in 1970. He began selling his inventions (tanning lamps and beds) in 1975. Tanning lamps and tanning beds became available in the USA in 1978.

A brief history of tanning beds

The history of tanning dates back to the late 19th Century when Niels Ryberg Finsen, a very ill physician, took an interest in the medical advantages of sunlight. He focused his research on the possible benefits of sunbathing on patients with lupus vulgaris. His study showed promising results. However, sunlight is very scarce in Scandinavia, so Finsen invented the Finsen lamp, or a carbon arc lamp that could emit UV rays. His invention became the first indoor tanning instrument.

Although Finsen’s invention and research were promising, tanning did not immediately appeal to the public. This is probably because the beauty standard of women in the Victorian era was pale and white skin. Women then designed their homes with dark and heavy curtains to prevent sunlight. They also wore long dresses, wide-brimmed hats, and carried umbrellas everywhere to maintain their white skin. However, as the economy shifted, the working class was secluded in big windowless factories and dark and crowded homes, so white skin became a symbol of illness and poverty.

After this shift in perspective, people became interested in tanning. In addition, Coco Chanel’s (a fashion icon) promotion of tanned and caramelized skin helped boost its popularity. Suddenly, everyone wanted to soak in sunlight and get rid of their pale skin. However, outdoor tanning was not always possible and required too much time and effort. So, the public demanded indoor tanning equipment.

Many people tried to make sun lamps or tanning equipment. However, the first tanning devices used too much UVB, which caused sunburns and skin damage. So it was in 1970 when Friedrich Wolff invented the first tanning lamp and tanning bed that used 95% UVA and only 5% UVB. His inventions hit the market in 1975 and became popular in 1978.

Wolff’s tanning beds opened the world of safe indoor tanning. After its release, the indoor tanning industry bloomed around the world.

The tanning beds timeline

  1. 1890
    Carbon Arc Lamp

    Niels Ryberg invented the Finsen Lamp for treating specific ailments and skin therapy. He won the Nobel Prize in Medicine because of the creation of the carbon arc lamp.

  2. 19th Century
    Pale is Out, Tan is In

    In the 19th Century, pale skin symbolized wealth, prestige, and class. So, Victorian women designed their homes and fashion to protect them from the sun. However, the poor became associated with dark homes, crowded places, and secluded factories, so pale skin became a symbol of ill health.

  3. 1923
    Index of Chic

    Coco Chanel contributed to the popularity of tanning. She came home from a holiday in Cannes and has caramelized skin. In an interview, she said, “A golden tan is an index of chic.” 

  4. 1920’s
    Sun Cure

    Physicians started advising patients to use “sun care” to treat diseases like constipation, high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. Because of this, there were several attempts to build home-tanning instruments. But, the first sunlamps and tanning lamps emitted a lot of UVB, which caused burns and skin damage.

  5. 1970
    Successful Attempt

    Friedrich Wolff addressed the skin-damaging issues of sun lamps. He reduced the percentage of UVB and looked for an alternative way to make tanning instruments work. As a result, his tanning bed and lamp have fewer chances of causing sunburns and skin damage.

Where were tanning beds invented?

Friedrich Wolff invented the first tanning beds in Germany.

 Importance of tanning beds

  • Good for SADness

    SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is a type of depression caused by changing seasons. Tanning can make you overcome SADness.

  • Spicier Sex life

    Vitamin D, which you can get from tanning, can help men’s erection and boost women’s hormones. That’s why having UVs can improve healthy sex life. 

  • Scratching no more

    Eczema is just one of the skin diseases that a tanning session can help get rid of. 

  • Stress reliever

    UV radiation can increase the production of happy hormones that can help you feel light, happy, and relaxed. 

The tanning beds by the numbers

  • 20If you decide to use a tanning bed, ensure you are above 20 years old because it might increase the chance of the development of melanoma or skin cancer. 
  • 2-102-10 minutes of exposure to natural sunlight is still better for your skin than a session in a tanning bed. Just avoid staying under the sun between 10 am- 3 pm. 
  • 7.8 Indoor tanning is well-known for adults in the US. In a recent survey, around 7.8 million people are still using tanning beds (either owning one at home or using one in a beauty salon).
  • 2-3 Having 2-3 sessions in a week is good for you. Remember that overuse of tanning beds and lamps can cause injuries and skin diseases. 

Five facts about tanning beds

  • Older skin

    Tanning is good and has many benefits. However, it can make your skin looks older compared to the natural way of tanning under the sun. Wrinkles and uneven skin tone are some of the common side effects of tanning.

  • Just a myth

    Most people believe using a tanning bed can’t cause skin diseases. In the United States, people who are using tanning beds reportedly acquired eye injuries and loss of consciousness due to tanning. 

  • Not enough

    Regular sessions in a tanning bed can activate the Vitamin D in your skin, but it is not enough. If you want to have a sufficient amount of Vitamin D in your body, have a balanced diet, or you can consider taking a supplement. 

  • Be aware that it’s addictive!

    Addiction is when someone can’t stop doing a thing or using a substance. For example, some people are addicted to tanning and find it hard to stop. This may lead to very dark skin tone and severe skin diseases. 

  • Long live, quit!

    Indoor tanning can make you achieve the perfect skin color you dream of having. However, choosing not to tan can help you avoid skin cancer, including melanoma. 

FAQs about tanning beds   

  • What are the benefits of lying on a tanning bed?

    A tanning bed can elevate your mood, increase vitamin D levels in your body, and improve your appearance. 

  • How long do you usually stay in a tanning bed?

    The time you spend in a tanning bed depends on your skin color and type. But, usually, the ideal is eight minutes per session for the first two weeks of each session. 

  • Can a tanning session reduce weight?

    Too much exposure to UV light may increase your metabolism, which helps in losing weight.

  • How long should a beginner tan in a tanning bed?

    If you don’t want to burn your skin, try to stay for at least five to seven minutes because long exposure in the tanning bed may lead to skin damage. Beginners are advised to ask experts before using home tanning beds.

  • Should you shower after tanning?

    You could shower immediately if you did not use any bronzer or spray tanning products. However, if you used a bronzer, you should wait at least 2 hours for the products to take effect.

Leave a Comment