The Jersey Shore uber-tan aesthetic may not be for everyone, but it seems that even for non-Guidettes, having a tan makes them sexier, according to a study from Emory University.
Researchers used the popular attractiveness-rating website HotorNot.com to gauge whether "hotness" scores would change when the same woman was shown with her natural complexion and then with a tan.
Using Photoshop, 45 photos of women aged 21 to 35 were doctored to look tan. The original photos and the doctored versions were posted to the site at different times. The researchers found that the darker version was twice as likely to be rated as more attractive.
Of course, tan enthusiasts would say that you don't need science to figure that one out.
"When I look in the mirror I feel more attractive when I'm darker, like my face is prettier. It's 100 percent a confidence boost for me," says Lauren Kafka, 31, of Miami, who uses a tanning bed three times a week to keep up her golden glow.
Kafka is aware of the skin cancer risks associated with her tanning bed habit, but she says the risk is worth it. "I wouldn't want a relative or someone I cared about to do it, but I'm willing to take the risk for myself," she says.
Campaigns by health organizations like the American Academy of Dermatology to warn the public about the skin cancer risks of tanning with have had limited success. About 28 million Americans still frequent tanning booths each year and tanning-bed use among teens has only been growing.
"People think that tanned individuals are more attractive, healthier looking, and it's incredibly difficult to get someone not to do something that perceive as providing them with a positive perception. It was the same thing with smoking. Especially younger people have a hard time seeing themselves as getting older and having to deal with these risks," says Dr. Audrey Kunin, dermatologist and founder of DERMADoctor Inc.
In the last century, tanned skin has done a 180 in public perception. A tan used to connote a working class person who had to do manual labor outdoors, but the Industrial Revolution started to change all that, says Mark Leary, professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University.
"The Industrial Revolution moved the working class indoors to factories. It was the rich who could afford vacations to places like Florida. That's where the shift started," he says.
Until recently, many doctors also felt that the sun conferred many health benefits, Leary says -- so much so that mothers in the 1930s and 1940s were sometimes told to leave their babies out in the sun for a certain amount each day.
While sun exposure does help the body produce necessary vitamin D, supplements and natural sources of the vitamin in one's diet, such as cheese and eggs, do the job just as well, says Kunin, so there isn't really a medical basis for tanner people looking healthier. Even a few minutes of sun exposure -- from walking the dog or sitting in one's car on a daily commute -- provides the average individual with enough UV exposure to make ample vitamin D, she says.
The advent of indoor tanning salons gave Americans a fast and relatively inexpensive way to get tan year-round, no trip to the tropics necessary.
"Now we know that there's no clear reason why tan ought to be perceived as healthier or as a sign of wealth, but we just haven't lost it as a signifier of a leisure class yet," Leary says.