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How to Use a Tanning Bed

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Don't kid yourself. Using a tanning bed will increase your chances of getting skin cancer, and you really shouldn't make it a habit to break your DNA with UV rays so that you can get a "healthy" glow. But if you insist on going to a tanning salon once in a while, maybe to even out your tan lines (farmer's tan, anyone?), or to relieve a bout of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or to establish a base tan so that you don't look like Casper the Friendly Ghost when you wear your speedo or bikini (that you made from an old t-shirt)--the least you can do is know your stuff. Tanning is one of those things that's surrounded by cosmetic mythology. Read these steps so that you don't get burned.


  1. Go to your local tanning salon and ask about the programs they have. Most salons have a variety of beds available:
    • Low pressure. This is the traditional tanning bed. UV rays are emitted in a spectrum that is similar to natural sunlight. The lamps produce fast color (instant gratification) but the risk of sunburn is highest in this kind of bed.[1] If you burn easily, it's not recommended that you use this bed.
    • High pressure. These beds emit a higher proportion of UVA rays (versus UVB rays). UVB rays are the ones that cause sunburn.[2] In this kind of bed you'll get a deeper, longer-lasting tan, but it will be slow to build.[1] Usually this bed is more expensive.
    • Booth. This is basically a vertical tanning bed. Instead of laying down, you stand up. Parts of the skin that would normally be hidden in creases while laying down will be exposed, making for a more even tan. It's also more hygienic because your skin doesn't come in contact with surfaces that other people's skin has touched (and sweat on, perhaps naked). Plus, it's the best option for claustrophobes.
    • Whole body spray. Your body gets sprayed by a substance that darkens your skin through a chemical reaction. UV rays are left out of the equation, so this is the least cancerous way to go. Keep in mind that this tan might fade away in a blotchy, unappealing way if you don't keep coming back for more.

  2. Take a tour. Visit a few salons and ask to see the beds. Is everything clean? Look closely at the beds. If you see any dirty buildup, like where the glass meets the edge of the bed, leave and never return. Otherwise, ask what kind of cleaner they use on the beds (glass cleaner won't wipe away bacterial infections, you know). Shop around, compare salons, and choose the one you like most.
  3. Fill out a skin analysis form. Any decent salon will make you do it. The form is used to determine your skin type (so they don't accidentally fry your skin by putting you in a bed for too long). It should only take a minute or so.
    • One important thing to be open about is what kind of prescription medication you're using. Some can affect the way your skin reacts to tanning a very bad way.

  4. Get goggles. Again, any decent salon will make sure you have goggles. If they don't insist, then they don't care about your safety (and they might be just as nonchalant about cleaning the beds in between uses). Don't worry, these funny-looking goggles won't give you raccoon eyes. They just make sure you won't go blind.
  5. Don't get tyrosine-based tanning accelerators, lotion, or pills. Don't listen to any mumbo jumbo about tyrosine. Yes, tyrosine is an amino acid that your body uses to produce melanin, which is the stuff that makes your skin look darker. That part is true. But there's no evidence (none!) that tyrosine is absorbed by your skin (or through your gut, just in case you're tempted to buy the pill form) and finds its way to the melanin factory.[3][4] Learn How to Resist a Sales Pitch if they get pushy, or just leave.
  6. Go to your room. Strip down as low as you want to go. You can keep your underwear/bra on, or you can wear a swimsuit, or you can go nude. Use the same precautions you would take in a public shower. Remember that even though the surface of the bed should be cleaned between uses, the rest of the room probably isn't, so don't sit on the chair naked unless you're 100% sure the person before you didn't have crabs. Keep your socks on unless you're 100% sure the person before you didn't have foot warts. You know, things like that.
    • If you're really paranoid, and you don't mind the staff looking at you like you have ten heads, ask for a bottle of the cleaner so you can wipe things down yourself. Don't bring your own cleaner, though, because some cleaners (e.g. ammonia-based ones) can damage the finish on the glass in the beds, or irritate your skin in surprisingly unpleasant ways when you expose it to UV rays right after sitting on a chair that you wiped down in bleach.
    • Ask a staff member to give you a tanning bed crash course. Find out what all the buttons do. How do you shut the whole thing off? How do you control the fan? If there are separate bulbs for the face, how do you turn those on and off?

  7. Put on your safety goggles. This is a must. Don't even think about getting into that bed unless you have goggles or some kind of approved eye protection (sunglasses don't do the trick, no matter how stylish they are). Who cares how goofy you look?
  8. Go to bed. Get inside the coffin--err, bed--and shut the lid. Press the button to flip the lights. There should be a timer, and the staff person should have assigned you a small time (like 10 minutes), no matter how much you argued that you don't burn, or that you want to get the most bang for your buck. A good tanning salon employee will know better and will start you off with a "low dosage" and increase it gradually (depending on your skin responded) every time you return. As you're laying there, pray that your DNA will prove resilient. Beg the tanning gods to spare you a sunburn. Visualize your cells producing melanin and lots of it. Or take a power nap (unless you're in a booth; napping while standing is not recommended).
  9. Get out of bed. If you're all sweaty and slick, wipe yourself down with a towel (which should have been provided). Put your clothes back on and swagger out of the salon.
  10. Maintain your tan. Instead of going back into the salon to replenish a fading tan, try to maintain your existing tan for as long as you can. Since the melanin that gives you color is located in the outer layer of your skin, you'll keep it longer by slowing down the rate at which your skin peels or sheds. Apply moisturizer generously twice a day[5] and do not exfoliate your skin. Supplement your tan with bronzers (they stain your skin and come off with soap and water) and sunless tanners (the color wears off in a few days). Or, better yet, avoid UV rays altogether and just use bronzers and sunless tanners!


  • For a tan that "sticks" even longer, exfoliate right before visiting the salon. This will expose a fresh layer of skin that won't shed for a while, although it may also increase your chances of sunburn.
  • Don't shower directly after, let the melanin in your skin absorb the tan, it's a good idea to shower before and then bathe the next day if you can wait that long.
  • It is usually expected that after you finish with the machine, you wipe up any remaining sweat you might have left in the bed with the small towel. This reduces the time they have to take when they clean the bed before someone else uses it. It also saves you from some embarrassment.
  • Check for skin cancer regularly. Do a breast self examination while you're at it.
  • Tanning won't be as efficient if you're very hairy. Consider shaving or waxing first.


  • Wear sunblock (when not tanning in a tanning bed). A base tan doesn't make you invincible.
  • Going into the tanning bed without special goggles is a good way to let go of superficiality, because you won't be able to see how pale you are if you're blind.
  • Exposing yourself to UV rays increases your chances of skin cancer, no matter how you slice it.
  • If any of the staff members are burnt and peeling, they might not be your best guides to the tanning process.
  • Tanning can actually be addictive. Beware of tanorexia.

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Sources and Citations

  1. 1.0 1.1



  4. American Cancer Society


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saverchic said...

Very interesting! I haven't tanned in a long time. Trying to save my skin. I miss it though. It's so relaxing.

I'm here from SITS!

Katie @

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