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The Science and Safety Profile of Tanning

Mar 4, 2008
The first tanning beds came to North America in 1978, courtesy of a German scientist named Friedrich Wolff. They began to gain popularity in the middle of the next decade, and since then, have become more popular. They're a convenient way to get a tan without having to spend hours exposed to the unpredictable radiation of the sun.

Of course, the ultraviolet light used in tanning beds is very similar to the sun's ultraviolet light, so you should know that many of the risks are the same. But having a knowledge of how tanning beds work - and, more importantly, how to use them safely and responsibly - can enable you to enjoy the sun-kissed look of that perfect olive or bronze tone you love!

Conventional lamps in tanning beds produce ultraviolet (UVB and UVA) radiation. UVB rays stimulate the production of melanin - a pigment that occurs naturally in human skin. But these rays can be dangerous: minor overexposure causes sunburn, and major overexposure is linked to many types of skin cancer. UVA rays oxidize melanin, which is the process that produces the color we associate with tanning. These UVA rays make up most of the rays used in tanning bed lamps.

To tan safely in a conventional bed, you need to develop a "base tan." Do this by tanning in intervals of twenty to thirty minutes about three to five times a week. This should take only about four weeks, and your tan can be maintained by bi-weekly visits.

Tanning in a high-pressure bed is different because these beds' lamps use only UVA, not UVB, rays. These lamps are called "high-pressure" because the atmosphere inside the bulbs, which are made of quartz, has higher air pressure. This pressure difference filters out the burn-causing UVB rays, which means that your tan will appear faster, be darker, and last longer. You will still need a base, tan, however! To develop one safely, tan for ten to twelve minute intervals over a period of ten to fourteen days. Do this no more than five times! Your tan can be maintained by bi-monthly visits.

To speed up and improve the quality of your tan, try using a tanning bed lotion, or "tan accelerator." Applying the accelerator to your body before tanning will maximize the effects of melanin oxidation, and it will also improve the overall health of skin, keeping it cool, comfortable, and adequately moisturized.

When tanning, you must also protect your sensitive eyes from UV light. Wear goggles, because wearing sunglasses or simply closing your eyes does not provide enough protection.
About the Author
Ian Spellfield, an avid home tanner, discusses topics relevant to the use and pricing of personal tanning beds on his website, the residential tanning bed guide.
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