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How Long Does It Take to Get a Tan in a Tanning Bed?

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Everything you need to know about tanning in a tanning bed.

Everything you need to know about tanning in a tanning bed.

Studies have conclusively linked exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light with risk for melanoma cancer, but that doesn't stop nearly 30 million people from artificially tanning each year in the United States.

However, tanning beds are not without merit, as they decrease the exposure time required to get tan and eliminate harmful UVC-type rays. Understanding your skin and the bed you choose will give you a solid idea of how long tanning will take for you.

UVA vs. UVB Rays

Fortunately, tanning beds eliminate the sun's harmful UVC rays. Natural sun rays and tanning beds both emit two kinds of UV light: UVA and UVB. UVB rays have a shorter wavelength, affect the outermost layers of skin (epidermis), and tend to cause burns. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the dermal layer of skin (under the epidermis) and cause the skin to tan when exposure is moderated. Tanning bed lamps generally emit between 93 and 99 percent UVA rays, so beds on the higher end of this scale will allow you to tan more quickly.

The six skin types (based on the Fitzpatrick scale).

The six skin types (based on the Fitzpatrick scale).

The 6 Basic Skin Types

The six basic skin types in regards to tanning range from "always burns and never tans" to "deeply pigmented and almost never burns." People in the first category can still achieve a tan, but only with sunless tanning lotions or sprays. The other five categories can tan in a tanning bed, but the more fair and freckled the skin type, the more tanning sessions it will require to get a healthy glow. By identifying which skin type you have, you can figure out the best tanning method for yourself.

Build a Base Tan

In order to use a tanning bed in a healthy manner, one must start out with short, weekly sessions and then eventually build up to longer use. These short sessions, which may feel like nothing, are creating a base tan that can be built upon later. Without this base tan, those who burn easily (skin types one and two) will simply continue to burn.

The chart below depicts the recommended lengths of each session for each skin type. Remember, it is unsafe to use a tanning bed more than once in a 72-hour period.

Tanning Times for Each Skin Type

Data provided by 5dollartan.com
Skin types 4-6 may increase session time by 2 minutes/session, but this is optional.

Skin TypeFirst SessionsAfter Base Tan (about 2 weeks)Maximum End Time

1

1-3 Minutes

Increase Time by 1 Minute/Week

5-8 Minutes/Session

2

2-4 Minutes

Increase Time by 1 Minute/Session

10-12 Minutes/Session

3

4-8 Minutes

Increase Time by 1 Minute/Session

12-15 Minutes/Session

4

4-9 Minutes

Not Necessary

20 Minutes

5

4-10 Minutes

Not Necessary

20 Minutes

6

4-10 Minutes

Not Necessary

20 Minutes

Tanning Limitations

The process of tanning, known as melanogenesis, may take up to 48 hours to start. Therefore, it's recommended that you allow that amount of time to pass between sessions in a tanning bed. Businesses will not allow you to tan for more than 30 minutes in a bed, and some allow less than that for certain beds. In addition, starting out very pale means you may need a few weeks' worth of sessions with less than the maximum amount of time to establish a base tan.

There are hundreds of different tanning oils, lotions, and sprays on the market.

There are hundreds of different tanning oils, lotions, and sprays on the market.

Quicker and Easier Tanning Bed Alternatives

Alternatives to tanning beds exist for extremely pale people who only burn, and other light-skinned people interested in achieving a tanned look more quickly. Special spray booths apply a tan in a matter of seconds. Lotions also exist that absorb into the skin within 4 hours after application and provide a tanned look.

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The main drawback to these techniques is they do not increase the melanin in your skin and wear off more quickly than using a tanning bed. These fake tanning options also are prone to rubbing off onto other surfaces like sheets, clothes, and any other object your bare skin touches. However, if you're looking to seem tan for a short period of time, like for a wedding or another event, these methods can do wonders.

A Tip for Faster Tanning

You can use both an SPF lotion and a tanning accelerator to protect your skin and get a tan simultaneously! This combination works whether you are tanning outside naturally or indoors in a tanning bed. Sunless bronzers also work wonders!

Make sure you know safe tanning practices before you enter the bed.

Make sure you know safe tanning practices before you enter the bed.

Good Luck!

Once you understand how tanning correlates with each skin type, you will be able to use a tanning bed safely and accurately. Remember, there are dangers involved with over-exposure to UVB rays, so monitor your time closely. Happy tanning!

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Tan in a Tanning Bed...Even If You're Paste White! - Leave Your Comments Below!

estella8309 on July 13, 2013:

Interesting, I like how you broke down tanning times based on different skin types. Getting a tan is definitely different for each individual.

way2tan on January 07, 2012:

Take your time, patience is a virtue. If you try to rush things you're going to wind up with nothing but bad tans.

Smooth Ripe (author) on December 06, 2011:

@StopSmokingProgram: Absolutely, they do!

StopSmokingProgram on August 07, 2011:

Do accelerators really work? I'd like to try that because I don't have a lot of time to lay out.

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