Researchers, analysing 100 years of beachwear, said that the bikini may be to blame for the increase in skin cancer rates.
The swimming costumes became fashionable during 1940s and exposed more of the body to sunlight than the garments previously worn. This increased exposure increased the risk of the most dangerous form of skin cancer, melanoma.
The study discovered that even taking into consideration an increase in early diagnosis and increased reports of cancer, the change in clothing has also played its part.
The team, based at New York University’s Langone Medical Centre, said that during the early 1900s, tanned skin was not appealing as it was classified as being working class at a time when porcelain skin was more popular.
During the 1920s, male and female swimwear was extremely conservative and only exposed about 23% and 18% of the overall skin surface respectively.
This changed during 1946 when Louis Reard, a French designer, released the bikini, which was very popular in the US and then spread to the rest of the world. However, it increased female skin exposure to 80% and most of the body was exposed to the elements. Male skin exposure was also increased to 89% as they discarded the swimming top.
The study states that people also started to enjoy more leisure time and favoured sportswear and swimwear which offered less protection. The warnings issued about the dangers of UV exposure were largely ignored.
The researchers refer to actresses, such as Bond Girl Ursula Andress, who popularised the tan as it was linked to images of wealth, youth, sexiness and health.
Yet, during the 1930s to the 1960s, cancer rates in the US for males and females increased by 69% and 18% respectively.
The incidence of melanoma increased by more than 300% in males and 400% in females. According to the researchers the increase in melanoma changed at the same time as the fashion, leisure and travel changes which resulted in a higher rate of skin and UV exposure.
The authors of the study claim that in recent years, the increase in use of tanning salons has resulted in increased melanoma rates. They found that in recent years the bikini has become skimpier and more damaging to females. The introduction of ‘strapless tops and low-rise bottoms’ has resulted in the skin exposure level increasing to 92% for females, while for males, it has remained at 89%.
The blame for tanning’s popularity has been placed firmly at ‘celebrity promotion’ and women’s magazines during the past 100 years.
Figures from Cancer Research UK indicate that in Britain more than 13000 people develop malignant melanoma each year. This is the most deadly form of skin cancer.
This figure is expected to increase to 20000 per year by 2027. During 1975, the figure was only 1800.
This dramatic increase has been blamed on the introduction of sunshine package holidays, which were extremely popular during the 1960s.
Many patients who are diagnosed today suffered sunburn during their youth, which caused cancer.
An added problem was that during the 1960s, which was dubbed the ‘Bronze Age’, very few people were aware of the danger of sunbathing, which means they unwittingly caused long term damage.
Image Credit: Gareth Williams