in the past, a white, untainted skin was the hallmark of the upper class
At archaeologic excavations around the Mediterranean it is not uncommon to come
across the remains of Roman solaria or, as the Greek called them, helioses,
especially at the houses of the better situated in the classic world. Houses with
galleries that were situated in such a way that a place in the sun was easy to find,
were a clear sign that the beneficial use of sunlight was common to their former
habitants. From the Middle Ages on however, a change in life-style with regard to
sunlight could be noticed. More and more a
sun-tanned skin became associated with poverty
and harsh labour and a white, untainted skin became
the hallmark of the upper class. Ultimately even
unnatural tricks were applied to obtain this sign of
prosperity. In the 17th and 18th century for instance,
it was customary for European women as well as
men to powder their faces with a white blend of
carbon dioxide salt and lead oxide which in many
cases finally caused serious lead poisoning. In the
19th century the lead oxide eventually was replaced
by the less dangerous zinc oxide but at the same
time the hype of avoiding the sun became greater
than ever. Sunlight was shut out from the houses,
women were kept out from the sun and even the
practice of drinking vinegar as a way to obtain a
distinguished paleness was not uncommon. The
finishing touch was to be found in thin blue lines of make-up that gave the impression
of veins shining through a pale skin.