The legendary designer Chanel looks fair-skinned here, but her 1923 bronzed trip on the French Riviera launched a trend for tans.

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The History of Tanning: Going for the Gold

It wasn't always this way. For centuries, tanned skin was considered unattractive, especially among women. A tan was not golden or glowing, but brown and weathered -- proof that someone labored outdoors. Well-bred ladies protected themselves with hats, parasols and long sleeves.

Coco Chanel is widely credited -- or blamed -- with changing all that. In 1923, the story goes that Chanel, the French fashion designer, accidentally got a lot of sun while sailing aboard a yacht to Cannes. When she returned from the Riviera golden brown, a fad was born. Before long, so was an industry.

Movie stars, politicians, models, teenagers, housewives -- everyone wanted to look bronzed. The rich and famous traveled to sunny places in winter or used a sunlamp. Ordinary people "worked" on their tans, "lying out" in the sun for hours. Sunburns were common.

As the century wore on, dermatologists and oncologists in Western nations were alarmed by a surge in skin cancers. They warned that damage to the skin builds up over time, leading to wrinkles and dry skin, as well as cancer. By the 1970s, suntan lotions were giving way to sunscreen concoctions boasting varying degrees of protection. Tanning beds and booths began catering to those who wanted a tan but worried about the sun.

It wasn't long, however, before doctors began to warn that the ultraviolet tanning lamps used in beds and booths were as bad as, if not worse than, the sun. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that tanning lamps may be more dangerous than the natural sun because people can use them at the same intensity year-round and can expose their whole bodies at once [source: U.S. FDA].

In a reverse of Chanel's trend-setting tan, some of today's celebrities, such as the porcelain-skinned Nicole Kidman, speak out against tanning [source: Quenqua].

Those who still desire a tan are beginning to turn to "sunless" tanning. Increasingly, the preferred option is spray tanning. In fact, news reports in September 2009 quoted a leading financial analyst as saying that spray tanning is the one area of growth in an otherwise declining tanning industry. Spray tanning, which brought in about 11 percent of the industry's revenue last year, is expected to grow to 17 percent by the end of the year, according to George Van Horn, the analyst [source: Conroy].

So, just what is this magic spray? Read on to find out.