June 30, 2016


The Good Old Days of Tanning

By Lisa Batten Kunkleman

Dang, it used to be fun in the sun. Life was simpler when we could tan all day and our only worry was getting a sun burn. Yes, sunburn hurt, but it was usually worth it. There was no mention of skin cancer back then so ignorance was bliss. Our skin got red as ketchup before we knew it. I have to admit, my mother knew best, warning me of sun damage before the world warned us about it. But did I listen?

Growing up near the beach, my buds and I spread our towels between the sand dunes. This was way back in the old days when it was still legal to walk on sand dunes. Nobody knew about turtles nesting in the soft sand or worried about erosion of our wide beaches. I never saw a turtle. Only an abundance of annoying little crabs we called sand-fiddlers. The dunes served as wind blocks when it was too cold to “lay out” on the beach, which was normal for early spring in North Carolina.

With no wind to bother us, and the sun bearing down, we were bathing beauties or at least tanning teens and tweens soaking up the rays. We had a transistor radio. It stayed tuned to the beach station that tended to our skin safety with a DJ telling us every twenty minutes, “Time to turn before you burn.” It didn’t matter if the station played seventies rock or beach music, the DJs were the resident skin care specialists.

In spring, getting sunburned was our goal for going back to school the next Monday. Here’s a disclaimer. “Kids of today, please do as we say, not as we did.” Even if our skin peeled like an onion a few days later, it was worth the, “Ouch, I’m sunburned,” laments when someone touched our shoulder. Worth all the pain when the sheets touched our fiery red skin that first night. Worth dodging the teasing touch of friends poking each others’ skin to watch the poked spot go from white back to red. Sometimes we’d try to ease the burn by putting concoctions on our skin like milk, vinegar, or aloe plant slime. The best was Solarcaine to deaden the pain for a little while.

Why didn’t we just use sunscreen? The answer is, there wasn’t such a thing. We had Coppertone and Sea and Ski suntan lotions and other such brands that might moisturize the skin, but did nothing to protect from a burn. Hawaiian Tropic Dark Tanning Oil was life changing. We all smelled like coconut oil and the sand stuck to us like flour to chicken ready for the fryer. There were some die hard tanners who mixed baby oil and iodine together to enhance their tan, but I think the iodine just dyed the skin a nice reddish-brown. I knew a few people who used actual motor oil for tanning lotion and they were as dark as a white person can get. Perhaps I shouldn’t share that and give any young people ideas they don’t already have. Like that could happen.

My proudest attempt at tanning was with one of my best friends, whom I’ll name so she can share credit for our ingenious idea. Mimi and I decided since cocoa butter was a new thing for tanning, and butter browned toast, butter should brown us. Yep. We got out the Mazola and slathered ourselves in buttery spread. Laying on our beach towels atop our ski boat sitting on a trailer on dry land in my back yard, we proceeded to roast ourselves. I can still smell the buttery aroma rising off our long white legs cooking in the sun. Let’s just say coconut oil smells lots better.

Thanks to sun damage days, age spots and skin cancer, carefree days of “laying out” are gone for most of us. Sunscreen is a must pretty much from birth, yet we need Vitamin D to combat all the deficiencies many of us face. It’s a dilemma. Dune tanning is illegal these days. Now I can only dream of a stroll through a sand dune without damaging the earth or a turtle nest and lying there to feel that warm sun on a cool spring day. Working on my spring burn. Watching out for those dang sand-fiddler crabs.

16 thoughts on “The Good Old Days of Tanning

  1. I didn’t listen to my mother either, Lisa. After graduation from high school, I remember traveling to the beach with friends and we baked all day using baby oil..OY! My vitamin D levels were so low a couple of year ago, but once I started 2000 mg a day, I’m normal..with the exception of the sun spots. 🙁

  2. One of your best blogs. Appealingly visual.

  3. That damn Coppertone baby ! ☺

  4. This one brought back LOADS of memories! Every summer was “work-on-your-tan” time, especially for those of us with “Irish skin.” No way was I ever gonna get that magical, deep-dark tan I wanted (even with baby oil!). How much better we’ve got it today, with sunless tanning creams! (Of course, the camaraderie and the music were part of the experience, something tanning creams just can’t compete with, ha!)

    • Well you’ve reminded me I have some self-tanners in the closet. Got them out and brought them on a July 4th lake gathering with our family and friends. I told the young adults they should test the tanners on places where the sun doesn’t shine since they were all lying around on the pier soaking up the rays. I’ll put it out there tomorrow and see if I have any takers.

  5. I miss those long summer days at the Lake Michigan beaches, smelling the coconut oil and baking like a cookie to the sound of the waves. It’s hard to believe kids today don’t get to do that!

    • Thanks for reading. I’m trying to visit your state as I hear so much wonderful talk about Michigan and the lakes, bridges, islands. I can’t get our schedule to work out for that trip but one day, I’ll see what people are talking about. I’ve been with my young adult kids for the holiday and believe it or not, there is a coconut smelling sunblock they were using this time. It sure took me back. But it’s not the same, that’s for sure.

  6. Oh, Lisa, what a fun post! Motor oil? Butter?? I remember those days of “working on my tan.” Now I don’t spend any time at all in the sun without slathering on the sunscreen. My Scandinavian skin just can’t take it anymore!

  7. hello lisakunk its dennis the vizsla dog hay dada sez this reeminds him of the faymus mr 80 spf sunblock warer dokyoomentry kommershul frum the faymus reel men of jeenyus kommershul seereez!!! of korse he is always hiding under a jigantik hat to keep away frum the sun so i think he is rite their with yoo!!! ha ha ok bye

  8. I almost never got a tan when I was growing up. My German grandmother had a fit if I got even the least bit brown. “Ach! Bei mir du bist in Feldarbeiter!” To me, you resemble a field hand! Horrors!

    We were still going through our “Habsburg” stage, and she would remind me that Princess Anne didn’t do whatever it was I want to do, and “SHE’s just a little thing”. I grew up hating that woman, and she never did a thing to me!

    • All I got out of all that tanning is age spots and wrinkles on my arms, hands, and neck. Thank goodness I’ve guarded my face for many years and sunscreen was finally invented. Your grandmother sounds like an interesting bit of story fodder.

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