A solarium is a sun room, from the Latin for 'sun'. In Rome, this area might be on the roof of a villa and open to the elements. In medieval times, it might be on the roof of one of the castle towers, but more typically might be a room at the top of the tower, with windows all around so that the room received sunlight at any time of day. The manor or castle solarium was usually the women's domain, where they would gather to spin, weave, gossip and run the business of the estate.
When glass became plentiful and affordable, rather than an extravagance, a solarium became a room built on to an existing house, walled primarily in glass. This kind was similar to a free-standing greenhouse, but could be reached from the home without going outdoors and was often furnished for entertaining or as a parlour. The room might also be called a "conservatory" and the homeowner who possessed one might grow exotic plants as a hobby.
Today the term solarium has several meanings; it can mean either a sun porch or attached greenhouse, that is, part of a home's living space, or it can mean a tanning bed or facility that operates tanning beds. The "tanning" context of such a room is relatively new. Tanning devices were earlier called tanning beds, then sunbeds. Apparently, the manufacturers and operators of these devices feel that the Latin term lends their services more cachet.
Solarium tanning involves lying in an enclosure that surrounds the person with ultraviolet light. It is UV light that causes the skin to tan. However, over-exposure to UV light also causes skin cancer. Some experts recommend exposure to a certain amount of UV for therapeutic purposes, for skin conditions such as acne, for example.
UV exposure can encourage the creation and release of the body's own endorphins, a natural "feel-good" substance similar in effect to morphine. It is quite possible that using solarium tanning beds might be psychologically, or even physically, addictive. People should proceed with caution if tanning to improve their appearance and keep their dermatologist's phone number in a safe place.