Understanding How Indoor Tanning Works

Indoor tanning is a way to get a tan without outdoor sun exposure. Approximately 10 percent of Americans visit an indoor tanning facility each year, according to the Indoor Tanning Association. Indoor tanning equipment, such as tanning booths and beds, emit ultraviolet (UV) rays. The sun naturally emits 3 types of UV rays, which are: UV-A, UV-B and UV-C. The UV-C rays are the shortest and the most harmful to your skin, while the UV-A rays are the longest and least harmful to your skin. To help protect your skin, tanning equipment only emits UV-A and UV-B rays. However, too much exposure to the ultraviolet rays, whether through indoor tanning equipment or naturally in the sun, can be harmful to your skin. Use these tips to get a good indoor tan and protect your skin.

Understand how indoor tanning beds work

The skin’s epidermis, or top layer, contains melanocytes, which are cells that produce melanin when stimulated with ultraviolet light. When you sit under an tanning bed or in a tanning booth, the lamps stimulate the melanocytes to produce melanin, which appears as a dark pigment on the epidermis. The melanin is produced by your body as a way to protect you from further sun exposure. The longer the exposure to the tanning equipment’s UV rays, the more melanin that is stimulated.

Determine your skin type.

Most professionals at indoor tanning facilities can help you determine your skin type. Skin types range from Type 1, which is very light skin that burns immediately, to Type 5, which is dark skin that tans easily. Your skin type will help you determine how long and how frequently to tan indoors.

Set a tanning schedule recommended for your skin type.

Professionals recommend a tanning schedule using incremental exposure times. These exposure times should be based on your skin type, and will help your skin develop a tan gradually without burning. For most skin types, a few tanning sessions will be required for your skin to oxidize the melanin and result in darker skin.

A Tanning Schedule
  1. Start slowly and gradually increase your exposure over time. Some tanning facilities start all new customers off with 5-minute tanning sessions and gradually increase to 12-minute (or longer) sessions. Because tanning lamps differ in UV strength and output, there is no formula for comparing indoor and outdoor exposure times. Consult the facility’s staff to help you determine optimum exposure times.
  2. Wait at least 48 hours between tanning sessions to avoid skin damage. Daily UV exposure can cause skin damage. However, if you wait too long between indoor tanning sessions, your tan may start to fade. Most indoor tanning professionals recommend 3 tanning sessions a week until a tan is developed, and then 2 each week after that to maintain the tan. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations prohibit more than 1 tanning sessions in a single day.
  3. Avoid overexposure. You can tell if you have gotten too much UV exposure if your skin starts to sting while tanning. Stop tanning as soon as you feel any prickling or stinging sensations on your skin.

Continue reading How to Get a Great Tan: Part 2 – Before, During & After Tanning.

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