What’s the Difference Between UV, Red Light, and Collagen Sunbeds?



When tanning salons first opened in the 1970s, there was just one type of sunbed available for customers to use. Today, there are three. UV sunbeds, red light sunbeds, and collagen sunbeds are all available for both home and commercial use, but what’s the difference between them, and which type of sunbed is the best one when it comes to getting a natural looking tan?

Interestingly, while red light and collagen beds are often referred to as sunbeds, they’re not sunbeds at all. In fact, neither of these beds produce a tan. However, they look similar to sunbeds, and work in a similar way, so the three are often grouped together.

Read on for a simple introduction to UV, red light, and collagen beds to help you decide which option best suits your needs:

UV Beds

UV beds are what typically comes to mind when thinking about sunbeds. These are tanning beds that emit UV light - both UVA (with a 320-400nm wavelength) and UVB (with a 290-315nm wavelength) but not UVC. Both UVA and UVB light contribute towards the development of a tan. UVA produces an immediate effect, while UVB is known for delayed tanning, where the effects develop more slowly over a number of days. UVB can also help to boost Vitamin D levels in the body for numerous health benefits. According to Harvard Health, UV sunbeds produce much more UVA than UVB, which is why this type of bed is so well loved, creating an instantaneous holiday glow.

  • Light: Mostly UVA and some UVB
  • Tan?: Yes, both instant and gradual effects
  • Safe?: Yes, although overuse can increase risk

Red Light Beds

Red light beds do not produce a tan. In fact, they don’t emit any UV light at all. Red light therapy, also ironically known as red light tanning, uses LED light strips to emit a low wavelength LED red light. This is outside of the UV wavelength range and doesn’t stimulate melanin production which is what creates that summer glow. Instead, the wavelength penetrates deep down through the skin, providing energy to the mitochondria. Known as the ‘powerhouse of the cell’, the mitochondria help cells to repair and heal. Research suggests that red light beds can help with pain relief, wound healing, inflammation, and may even help to keep hair looking thick and luscious, too.

  • Light: LED low level red light
  • Tan?: No. Used for full-body rejuvenation
  • Safe?: Yes, minimal risks or side effects

Collagen Beds

Collagen beds are a blend of the traditional sunbed (they use regular sunbed lamps, rather than LED strips) and red light beds (they emit a low level red light, rather than UV radiation). These beds do not produce a tan, but instead work to boost collagen levels in the skin which can help to address common skin concerns and minimise signs of aging. Studies have found that this type of therapy results in a ‘larger expression of collagen and elastic fibres’, specifically of type I and III which are found in the skin. With collagen being essential for maintaining a strong bond between the different layers of skin, retaining optimal levels can boost complexion and reduce wrinkles and sagging.

  • Light: Low level red light
  • Tan?: No. Used to boost collagen and improve skin elasticity
  • Safe?: Yes, minimal risks or side effects

Why Beds?

A common question that’s often asked is why red light therapy and collagen therapy need to be undertaken in a sunbed. And the answer is that they don’t. In fact, there are many different handheld devices that can be used to deliver the same effects.

However, the UV sunbed style remains the most popular choice for red light therapy and collagen therapy. Why? There are two primary reasons. The first reason is all to do with comfort. As red light and collagen therapies do not emit harmful UV radiation, sessions can be longer than standard tanning sessions, usually lasting up to 20 minutes. These extended sessions mean that the comfort of the user is very important. Sunbed-style tables with integrated cooling fans and built-in audio systems help to create a much more calming, relaxing, and all-round enjoyable experience.

The second reason is all about convenience. Red light therapy especially is often used for full body rejuvenation, and collagen therapy can benefit skin all over the body. Handheld devices target just a small area at a time, which can make it very time consuming to conduct a full head-to-toe session. Sunbed-style tables are able to target the entire body at once, making red light and collagen therapy quicker and easier.