How Indoor Tanning Works
Indoor tanning equipment, like outdoor sunlight, emits UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB (ultraviolet B) light. Of the UV light emitted by the sun at noon in the summer in the United States: 95 percent is UVA and 5 percent is UVB.
More than 90 percent of professional indoor tanning units emit about 95 percent UVA and 5 percent UVB in regulated dosages similar to summer sun. Recommended exposure schedules developed by the U.S. FDA in cooperation with the tanning industry allow trained indoor tanning operators to set incremental exposure times, based on the "skin type" of a patron, that deliver consistent non-burning dosages of UV light to allow a tanner to gradually build a tan.
The statement that "indoor tanning units are more intense than sunlight" is misleading and inaccurate because the total output of a tanning unit is measured the following way:
Total UV Output = UV Intensity x Duration of Exposure
While tanning units may be 2-3 times as intense as summer sun, the duration of exposure is controlled, and thus the total UV output is controlled, to minimize the risk of sunburn. Exposure times in the more intense tanning units are calculated in similar fashion.
A typical indoor tanning exposure schedule (below) allows a professional indoor tanning operator to gradually increase the exposure times of a tanner over the course of the tanner’s regimen based on the individual’s skin type.
Recommended Exposure Schedule
|Skin Types||Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4|
|Skin Type I||Unable to tan. Do not expose Skin Type I to indoor tanning.|
|Skin Type II||3 minutes||5 minutes||8 minutes||12 minutes|
|Skin Type III||3 minutes||5 minutes||8 minutes||15 minutes|
|Skin Type IV||4 minutes||8 minutes||13 minutes||20 minutes|
|Skin Type V||5 minutes||9 minutes||16 minutes||20 minutes|
|Skin Type VI||6 minutes||10 minutes||16 minutes||20 minutes|
Less than 5 percent of North Americans are what is called "Skin Type I" – which includes people of Northern European heritages (some Irish or English people, for example) whose skin is so fair that it cannot tan without burning. North American indoor tanning protocol is not to allow these people to tan in salons, and our skin type questionnaire identifies them. If they wish to tan, they are advised to use non-UV self-tanning products.
In professional North American tanning facilities today:
- Trained operators control all tanning exposure times, minimizing a client’s risk of overexposure and sunburn, and require tanners to use FDA-compliant protective eyewear, which eliminates the risk of eye injury.
- All clients undergo comprehensive evaluations, including identifying their sun sensitivity (skin type). Clients also are taught about photosensitizing medications, which can potentially make a person more susceptible to sunburn.
- Clients are taught sunburn prevention and the appropriate use of outdoor sunscreen. Combined with the fact that a tan is nature’s protection against sunburn, this is why indoor tanning clients are up to 81 percent less likely to sunburn outdoors as compared to non-tanners, according to Smart Tan surveys.
- Clients are presented with material outlining the potential risks of overexposure to UV light and sign informed consent agreements acknowledging this.
Because of all these safeguards, the professional indoor tanning has an exemplary safety record: From an estimated 6 billion indoor tanning sessions from 1985-2006 only 142 adverse events are reported in U.S. federal records – most occurring before 1997. That’s an injury rate of 0.0000000236 – or less than one report in every 44 million sessions over a 21-year period, with most of the reports coming in earlier years.