Flashback 1988: "Tans are out" and pasty white is in

This feature, The Way It Was, resurfaces and explores past stories from the CBS News archives. If there's a topic you'd like to see, leave a suggestion in the comments section or send us a tweet at @CBSEveningNews.


You wouldn't know it by looking at the rates of skin cancer in the U.S. but there was a time in the late 1980s when a tan look was considered gauche. The anti-tan movement started, of all places, in Los Angeles, California.

CBS News correspondent David Browning looked into the trend for a May 13, 1988 report on the "CBS Evening News."

"Tans are out," said columnist Richard Rouilard. "Tan is so out in Los Angeles that George Hamilton has removed the tanning machine from his Rolls Royce. The last I saw George Hamilton, he was just a deep shade of mocha."

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The model on the Bain de Soleil lotions had gotten lighter over the years
CBS News

Hamilton, famous for his Hollywood acting, was just as famous for his tan. So if Hamilton was suddenly stepping back from the sun, it meant others would take notice.

The movement was propelled by a changing taste in appearance and in health, though judging by the comments made in Browning's 1988 report it seems appearance was the dominant factor.

"Hollywood wives are frightened to go into the sun because they like to keep that pale, perfect complexion," said Jackie Collins, author of "Hollywood Wives."

"It's totally tacky. It's ugly and it's old, it's over," said a woman.

"Self-destruction is out, drugs are out, alcohol, smoking. It's just not healthy to bake in the sun anymore," said beauty expert Gale Hayman.

Some businesses took notice of the anti-tan trend and began catering to their skin conscious clientele. The Citrus, a trendy restaurant in Los Angeles, did away with its open air roof after diners complained. As one Citrus employee put it, the diners "want to stay beautiful, they don't want to be tanned anymore."

Even sunbathing companies were scaling back their looking. As Browning pointed out, the woman on the Bain de Soleil lotion ads had gotten noticeably lighter over the years.

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Irving Link, 81, a holdout of the anti-tan fad
CBS News

The fad did have its holdouts in those who ignored the growing warnings about skin exposure and cancer. They ranged from the young clientele of tanning beds to the elderly, including an 81-year-old man who told CBS News he had tanned by the Beverly Hills pool every day for 38 years and wasn't about to stop.

"I like the feel of it, the warmth of it," said the man.

In subsequent years, it seemed the tan look would prevail over the pasty-white fad. In a 2014 survey, the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine found that a majority of young women cited an improvement in appearance as a major reason for tanning.

And the skin cancer rates have worsened over the years. A 2012 Mayo Clinic study found that melanoma in women 18 to 39 increased eight-fold from 1970 to 2009. The researchers in that study speculated that the use of indoor tanning beds was a key culprit in the rising cancer rate.