How do Sunbeds Work?

Technology can sometimes seem overly complicated. But one of the good things about sunbeds is that they’re actually very simple and straightforward, making it easy for all of us to understand how they work, even if we’re not technologically-minded. 

So how exactly do they work?

To properly understand how sunbeds work, we need to look at how sunbathing works. When we’re lying on the beach in sunny Spain, those powerful UV rays from the sun are what create chemical changes in the body, affecting the appearance of the skin. 

There are two forms of UV light that can travel as far as earth: UVA light and UVB light. UVA light accounts for 95% of all UV light from the sun that reaches our planet. This type of light is what helps produce a natural-looking, golden tan. UVB light accounts for the remaining 5%, and it’s this form of UV light that can redden the skin and make it burn. 

Are sunbeds the same as sunbathing? Almost. But not quite. Sunbeds feature tanning lamps that emit the same type of UV rays as the sun. In fact, while models do vary, it’s estimated that the average sunbed emits UV at an index of 12, which is about equal to the UV rays emitted by the midday sun on the equator, so they’re incredibly strong. 

What makes sunbeds different is that most sunbeds produce even more UVA (the type of light that produces a tan) and even less UVB (the type of light that can cause burns) than natural sunlight. In fact, studies have found that some models can produce up to 99% UVA and just 1% UVB. That’s why you can build a tan in less time than you can on the beach. Around 20 minutes on a sunbed is equivalent to around 4 hours in the sun. 

And that’s really all there is to the technology behind sunbeds. Regardless of whether you opt for an over bed canopy, a lie-down sunbed, or an stand-up sunbed model, sunbeds all work in the same way: they expose the skin to the same UV light as the sun emits. Of course, it’s not really ‘the same’. But studies have found that ‘no difference has been detected between the reaction of our skin to artificially generated radiation and solar radiation of the same composition’, so for all intents and purposes, it’s the same. 

How do Sunbeds Produce a Tan?

The technology behind sunbeds only does so much. A big part of how sunbeds work is the body’s own biological responses to UV light. When exposed to this form of light, a chemical known as melanin is released in the body. It’s initially released deep down in cells called melanocytes, but as the chemical rises towards the surface of the skin, it becomes easier to see the brown-coloured hue that it produces. That’s your tan. 

And so the best way to use sunbeds is to ensure that all parts of your body that you want tanned are exposed to the tanning tubes which emit the UV light. Depending on the type of bed you’re using, you may need to turn over during your session to expose both the front and back of your body. You should also remember to cover up any areas that you don’t want tanned, and to wear goggles to protect your eyes. 

So is a sunbed tan permanent? No. Just like a natural tan, the glow you get from a sunbed is only temporary. How many sunbed sessions to get a tan really depends on your skin type, and skin sensitivity. Most people can develop a great-looking tan in 2 or 3 sessions per week, with each session adjusted based on individual skin type needs. 

However, as well as considering how many sunbeds a week to get a tan, you should also think about how long to leave between sunbeds. Some people believe that tanning every day will give them the results they’re looking for, but the truth is that overdoing it can leave you with skin that looks wrinkled, leather, and coarse. 

Instead of tanning every day, you’ll get better results if you leave at least 24 hours between sessions, and ideally 48 hours if you have a lighter type II skin type. You should also try not to exceed 60 sessions per year, according to the European Standard. If you’re worried that your tan will fade during your rest periods, don’t. There are a couple of different ways to help maintain your sunbed tan for longer without UV exposure:

1. Exfoliate

By exfoliating your skin before tanning, you’re getting rid of all the dead skin cells on the surface of the skin that are about ready to flake off. This gives you a strong, fresh foundation upon which to build your tan, and can help to boost your rich colour.

2. Use a Tan Extender

Tan extenders are especially formulated lotions and creams that expertly moisturise the skin after tanning to keep it looking and feeling healthy. This can reduce dry, flaking skin after a session, helping your colour to stay looking great for much longer than normal.