If I ever write a book about how to tan, my blurb would be very simple, “Remember the 90s TV sitcom, Friends? How about the episode where Ross Geller gets a tan? Yeah, it’s hilarious, but that’s not the definition of glowing, sun-kissed skin.”

Tanning is more than a cultural trend — it’s the easiest and fastest way to get clearly defined features without surgery, as well as adding a healthy glow to your skin.

A good tan will make you feel fabulous and more confident; however, it should never scare the living daylights out of people.

Let’s explore the nitty-gritty of how to tan; but first, a closer look.

Skin By Me, Darling

So, what is tanning? It’s a process whereby a person’s skin is darkened or bronzed, often as a result of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun.

Beyond the apparent aesthetic reason for wanting to learn how to tan, there’s an underlying scientific explanation, as well.

According to Ellen Quillen, Ph.D., tanning is a biological response to the exposure to ultraviolet radiation. She explains that during sunbathing, skin cells known as, melanocytes, secrete melanin to protect us from damages caused by solar radiation.

With that said, let’s see the ways to get sun-kissed.

Getting That Glow

Although tanning is mainly achieved through a recreational activity known as sunbathing, cosmetic experts have created a billion-dollar industry to provide a variety of ways to tan artificially.

While results vary, here are the most common sunless tanning alternatives.


This is an indoor tanning service where a cosmetic technician sprays a solution of dihydroxyacetone (DHA) onto the client’s entire body.

DHA is a colorless chemical derived from sugarcane.

When it interacts with the amino acids in the skin, it turns brown to create a tanning effect.

Tanning Lotions

Self Tanner - With Organic Aloe Vera & Shea Butter, Sunless Tanning...
  • Say hello to perfect sun-kissed skin: Our self tanner transforms your skin from pale to a natural glow. Transforms even...
  • Get your tan without sun damage: No sun needed here. This tanning lotion gives you a gradual sun kissed glow without...
  • Your skin will thank you: Perfect alternative to brands that sell chemical filled tanners containing artificial...

With DHA as their main ingredient, tanning lotions also create a darkening reaction when it comes into contact with amino acids.

To use, you have to thoroughly strip the body of all cosmetic products before applying the lotion directly onto the skin.


Millennium Tanning Products: Dark Tanning Lotion, 100x, 13.5 Fl Oz
  • Easy to Use - Rub the tanning lotion evenly & step into a tanning bed to have that beautiful glow!
  • Quick Results - Show-off your already tanned skin 1 hour after application of this bronzing lotion!
  • Long-lasting Color - Flaunt your skin for weeks when you use Millennium 100X indoor tanning lotion.

These are sunless tanning products that are worn for a short period -- typically a day before washing off.

Depending on your preference, bronzers offer powder, spray, gel, and stick options.

Spray bronzers, like makeup foundations, are created to compliment skin tones and types.

Tanning Beds And Booths

Sperti Fiji Sun Home Tanning Lamp - Face and Body Sunlamp
  • SALON QUALITY - No need to carve out time for an appointment. Fiji Sun lets you conveniently achieve a smooth and even...
  • FACE AND BODY - Easy to use tabletop light is fully angle adjustable, allowing it to be used for facial and sectional...
  • ALL YEAR BRONZE - Maintain a natural glow year-round, regardless of the weather or season. This mighty personal sunlamp...

By using lamps that produce UV-A and UV-B rays, tanning beds and booths exist to replicate the sun’s effort on the human skin.

According to regulations, a session should only last for approximately 20-minutes; and must be used with discretion at all times.

Mists And Pills

medical pills

Image via flickr

Although tanning mists bear similarities with sprays, they are lighter and only designed to touch-up on tanned skin.

Tanning pills, on the other hand, are capable of changing a person’s skin tone completely.

It contains a chemical called canthaxanthin, which although legal, isn’t approved by the FDA for tanning purposes.

I Need That Goodness

Unfortunately, due to the differences in skins, tanning isn’t for everybody.

The results of ultraviolet light on all skin types vary drastically—from beautiful, bronzed complexions to severe sunburns. So, before you decide to learn how to tan, you need to know the different skin types, and the effects tanning has on each.

Let’s discuss using the table below:

Skin Type

Skin Color

Reaction to UV

IPale whiteBurns severely – never tans
IIWhite to light beigeBurns easily – tans lightly
IIIBeigeBurns moderately – tans eventually to light brown
IVLight brownBurns minimally – tans well to moderate brown
VModerate brownRarely burns - tans readily to dark brown
VIDark brown or blackNever burns – tans profusely

Table by author

On The Sunny Side

The journey to learning how to tan is halfway complete once you’re able to identify your skin type and determine your reaction to UV-light.

If you can tan without adverse effects, here are a few benefits you stand to enjoy.

Psoriasis Treatment


Image via flickr

To ease discomforts and the unsightly breakouts of psoriasis, doctors recommend light therapy, as well as drugs such as psoralens.

Light therapy involves shining UV-light to reduce itchiness, size of scaly rash, or even clear them up entirely.

Although UV-light doesn’t cure psoriasis, it helps to manage symptoms.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

sad person hiding underneath the umbrella

Image via flickr

SAD is a type of major depression that occurs during specific times of the year, occasionally in the winter or fall.

Like psoriasis, one of the ways to manage SAD is through light therapy.

During treatment, patients sit near a light therapy box — which is an equipment that mimics natural light — for a while.

Protective Shield

Although sunlight has a lot of healing and mood changing effects, it consists of two harmful rays, as well.

Long-wave ultraviolet A (UVA) and short-wave ultraviolet B rays can penetrate in the dermis to cause serious health problems.

However, tanning serves a protective layer to shield us from these harmful rays.

Vitamin D

old man exposing himself to sunlight

Image via flickr

In learning how to tan, you’ll soon discover that the biggest perk of sunbathing is the vitamin D we get from the sun.

While dietary supplements may cause the body to over-process calcium, the sun’s vitamin D is safe completely natural.

It’s essential for optimal health and helps to maintain healthy bones.

On The Flip Side

While the benefits of tanning are undeniable, a few downsides may occur when practiced without caution and discretion.

The negative aspects of tanning range from short-term skin damage to life-threatening health problems.


uneven skin tone of both woman and man

Image via flickr

This is the commonest, negative effect UV exposure on the skin.

Also known as erythema, a sunburn is a form of short-term skin damage.

It occurs when UV-rays damage the cells in the epidermis, and the body’s response of sending blood to the affected areas marks its redness and peeling appearance.

Skin Cancer

Skin Caner

Image via flickr

Although predisposition to cancer is hereditary, experts suggest that exposure to UVA and UVB may cause skin cancer.

This is possible when UV radiation damages the DNA in skin cells (causing abnormalities and growths), and the immune system.

The two main types of skin cancer are melanoma and non-melanoma.

Premature Aging

To figure out how to tan, it’s essential to understand that it may cause premature aging.

Without a layer of protection, harmful UV rays penetrate the dermis and break down the elastin fibers and collagen in healthy skin.

The aftermath is evident by wrinkles, dark spots, and loosened folds.


Photokeratitis explained

Image via flickr

This is eye damage to the cornea.

Photokeratitis may occur due to intense exposure of UVC and UVB from artificial sources such as tanning lamps or mercury vapor lamps.

Symptoms include hazy vision, swollen eyelids, tearing, and pain. Treatment is quite fast since the cornea heals in 24 to 48 hours.

Okay, I Have A Few Questions

A few debates are surrounding the process of learning how to tan.

While some think that the benefits aren’t worth the risks, a few believe that tanning, when done mindfully, can be an enjoyable experience. Let’s explore a few concerns.

Is Tanning Safe?

woman getting herself tanned at the beach

Image via flickr

Sunlight consist of beneficial UV-rays, as well as bad ones; so, it’s essential to know when to sunbathe.

According to research, UV intensity is highest during mid-morning to afternoon time, roughly around 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. That said, the best time to tan is before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.

Around that time, the sun’s rays aren’t falling directly on your skin, making it safer to figure out how to tan.

Conclusively, there are risks involved in both sun and sunless tanning, however, being conscious about the frequency, type of tanning products and equipment, skin type, and tanning time, help to reduce risks.

Is Tanning Equipment Safe?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require warning labels on all indoor tanning equipment. This goes without saying that tanning beds aren’t safe.

One sunless indoor session with tanning booths, beds, or sun lamps increases your risk of developing skin cancer. People who tan indoors are 6 more times likely to get melanoma before they turn 30-years-old.

Additionally, your body needs UVB-light from the sun to make vitamin D; however, the bulbs in tanning equipment mostly emit UVA-light robbing you of cherished minerals.

What Should I Do To Protect My Skin From UV Rays?

person lying down on a UV rays machine

Image via flickr

There are three ways to protect yourself from UV rays: Apply sunscreen, wear protective clothes and accessories, and seek shade when the sun’s rays are harsh, usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

UVA and UVB rays transmit through clouds, so it’s essential to take protective measures every day, even when learning how to tan.

Another great tip is to use sunscreens with a sun protective factor (SPF) 30 or higher. Additionally, look for “broad-spectrum” labels, they protect you from both UVA and UVB rays.

How Can I Make My Tan Last?

Shower oil

Image via flickr

To prevent peeling, take cold showers and moisturize with shower oil or lotion.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that a good skin day starts from within, so, increase your water intake to hydrate your skin, smoothen wrinkles, and prolong your tan.

You may also apply a matte bronzer on areas where the sun naturally hits—nose, forehead, temples, and cheekbones—to give you clearly defined features and the illusion of a full tan.

How To Tan Safely: Tips And Techniques

We love the sun for several reasons, amongst which include its contribution to boosting serotonin levels, producing vitamin D for healthy bones, teeth, and skin, and alleviating stress and anxiety.

But now that we’ve covered the nitty-gritty of how to tan, we are aware of the risks and benefits involved.

With this knowledge, it’s time to learn how to tan safely.

Shield Of Armor

The first step to take seriously when figuring out how to tan safely is to consider using sunscreen habitually — all year round to be exact.

There are two things to consider when applying sunscreen before tanning: the time of year and time of day. During the sun’s peak hours, i.e., between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., you have to be mindful of proper skincare.

For those periods, we advise that you apply sunscreen liberally; purchase one that has a “broad-spectrum” label and an SPF of 30 or higher.

Furthermore, make it a point to wear sunscreen in winter, albeit one with a lower SPF dosage.

Skincare Rituals

Burt's Bees Natural Acne Solutions Pore Refining Cleansing Scrub,...
  • ACNE FACE WASH: Clearer skin is just a scrub away with Burt's Bees natural face cleanser scrub, specially made for acne...
  • PORE CLEANSER: Formulated with 99% natural ingredients, Burt’s Bees naturally exfoliating facial cleanser scrub calms...
  • ACNE TREATMENT: Naturally infused with salicylic acid derived from willow bark, Burt’s Bees acne treatment scrub...

The key to the perfect sun-kissed tan is proper exfoliation.

When you exfoliate before tanning in the sun or applying a sunless tan, you rid yourself of the dead skin cells that lie on the outermost layer of the skin. Once your skin is fresh and smooth, your tan comes out even and long-lasting.

Exfoliation is vital for sunless tans because oily skin can’t absorb product well, while dry skin absorbs too much product. These issues cause your tan to look uneven, streaky, odd-looking, and short-lasting.

Other proper care routines, such as showering and moisturizing daily, also contribute to getting that perfect glow.

Bed of Lies

To prevent health problems and exposure to skin cancer, avoid tanning beds at all cost.

Here’s a simple truth: The safest way to get a tan is under the sun with SPF protection, during safe tanning hours.

UV-rays from artificial sources consist of carcinogens — which are cancer-causing substances. The artificial UVA-rays break down the collagen and elastin in the top layer of the skin, leading to premature aging, irreparable DNA skin damage, eye damage, and immune suppression.

Moreover, research suggests that 419,254 skin cancer cases are due to indoor tanning. Tanning pills are dangerous, not FDA-approved, and must be avoided, as well.

Tan In Style

Eye damage

Image via flickr

When tanning outside or with the help of a spray tan professional, it’s essential to protect your eyes.

Overexposure to UV-light can cause severe eye damage to your eyes. Closing your eyes in a tanning booth (which blocks less than 25 percent of harmful UV-rays), or wearing a hat when tanning outside are bad eyecare practices.

If you want to prevent sunburn to the eye, which is marked by itchy, red, and watery eyes, wear sunglasses or other forms of protective eyewear.

Long-term exposure to UV-light increases risks to cataracts, an eye problem which causes severe pain and even blindness. Other permanent damage includes Reduced Night Vision and Diminished Color Perception.

The Natural Way

As you’re figuring out how to tan safely, you can choose to do it the natural way.

The first step is to apply tanning oil; then 20 minutes later -- as already discussed, use a sunscreen with the ideal SPF. Then, position yourself under direct sunlight while wearing minimal clothing.

As you’re tanning, remember to turn over your body frequently to get an even tan.

A good rule of thumb is to turn your body in a 90-degree angle every half hour. Start on your back, then switch to your left side, the stomach, and finally, your right side. After an hour or two, take a refreshing shower or bath to compensate for the heat and wash off oils.

The Artificial Way

No products found.

To begin the self-tanning process, exfoliate with a rotating exfoliator or washcloth.

Spend time around your elbow, ankles, and knees, where dead skin cells are the thickest. Next, dry your skin and begin to apply the self-tanner in sections. Typically, it’s advisable to start with your arms and before moving on to your torso.

Pro tip: Wash your hands with water and soap after each section to avoid long-term orange-colored palms.

Lastly, wait for 10 to 30 minutes before getting dressed and make sure to wear loose clothing for a few hours to prevent sweating.

Building Healthy Tanning Habits

woman wearing bikini lying on red mat near seashore at daytime

Image via pexels

While the journey of learning how to tan may have come to an end, you have to make conscious efforts to develop and maintain healthy tanning habits.

Consider your skin type and tan accordingly.

Furthermore, you have to keep in mind that there are pros and cons to every activity, so it’s up to you to weigh each side and make a decision that best suits your lifestyle.

Sometimes, the desire to achieve a fast tan will drive you to sunbathe during the sun’s peak hours, and with minimal tanning lotion and sunscreen; don’t fall for it.

Well-defined features and aesthetic benefits should not outweigh the risks involved. If you’re going to tan habitually, make it a point to visit your healthcare provider for a skin cancer screening.

You may also perform a head-to-toe self-examination check every month, and see your doctor the moment you feel any abnormalities.

Do you know how to tan? What are your experiences with tanning? Share your thoughts down below!

Last update on 2021-10-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This