Learn The Secrets of How to Use UV-light For Healthy Tanning.
Most experts get this wrong. Authorities don’t take it into account when they make regulations. Dermatologists and manufacturers of sun-protecting cosmetics have given the wrong advice about this for more than 30 years.
The secret is about a difference thinner than a hair but knowing the difference (and applying it) can add many years to your life and make you look many years younger.
It’s the difference between how UVA and UVB rays affect your body.
Here is a 3 min long video which describes the roles of UVA and UVB in the tanning process (turn up your speakers for the second part where Dr. Edward Gorham explains the natural tanning process)…
When you are applying the knowledge you will get from the rest of this article, you will be able to use UV-light for healthy tanning not only to get a beautiful and younger looking skin but also as the best way to maintain your overall health.
We all know that ultraviolet light comes with the sunshine and that we also can get it from tanning beds. But most people don’t know that there are different kinds of UV light.
There are UVA, UVB and UVC. UVA has the longest waves and are closest to the violet light in the rainbow (the visible spectrum of sunlight). UVB has shorter waves and UVC the shortest. Practically all UVC-rays in sunshine are filtered out in the atmosphere before they can reach the earth. And that is very good because otherwise they would burn us to death.
So when we talk about tanning, it is only UVA and UVB that are of interest for us.
For any deliberate tanner, the knowledge about the differing roles of UVB and UVA in the tanning process is as essential as it is for a gourmand to know the difference between eatable mushrooms and poisonous.
So let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of UV-light and look at some basic rules that will make your tanning better, with less photo-aging and actually reducing the risk of skin-cancer.
Here is a table with the characteristics of UVB and UVA with regards to tanning.
|+ makes your skin produce more melanin that works like your natural sun-protection 1)||+ Oxidizes the melanin into a darker colour which adds to the natural sun-protection|
|+ Make a tan gradually darker and more natural (delayed pigmentation)||+ Will create a fast and dark tan for tanners with existing melanin (immediate pigmentation of skin-type 3 and darker)|
|+ Makes a tan last longer||– A UVA-tan only disappears quickly|
|+ Makes your body make vitamin D||– Does NOT make your body make vitamin D|
|– Overexposure will burn your skin and increase the risk for skin-cancer||– Increases the photo-damage to your skin (photo-aging)|
|+ IARC (the International Agency for Research on Cancer) has concluded that regular and moderate sun-exposure reduces the risk of melanoma.||– Exposure mainly to UVA does not mean any reduced risk for skin-cancer.|
1) Except for people with skin-type I
The best tan, for any skin-type and for any purpose (health and/or beauty), comes from a balanced exposure to both UVB and UVA.
Given the characteristics in the table above, it seems definitely more favourable to adjust this balance to optimal UVB exposure and minimal UVA.
Unfortunately, you have been brainwashed by the media and most medical establishments (sponsored by the manufacturers of sun-protection cosmetics) to believe exactly the opposite.
It is not that UVA doesn't have a role in tanning (as you can see in the video above). The colouring of the melanin is an essential part of our body's own protective mechanism towards overexposure from both UVA and UVB. And, for sure, UVA is also a good way to quickly boost a nice tan, assuming that you already have some melanin in your skin. It is therefore not a coincidence that most of the high pressure tanning beds (which emits mainly UVA) are coming from countries with a major part of their inhabitants being of skin-type III and IV.
When it comes to positive health-effects, UVA-lamps have also been shown to lower blood pressure equal to about what blood pressure medication does.
However, the amount of evidence for health benefits of moderate but regular UVB-exposure is increasing for every day.
This is, however, only the theoretical part of the UVB/UVA enigma when it comes to tanning.
In order to use the information to get a healthy tan, we need to find that optimal combination of UVB and UVA in real life.
Suntan or sunburn
As said above, optimized UVB and minimized UVA is the recipe for a good and healthy tan. But what does it mean in practice. And how can we minimize the risk of burning from too much (and/or too short waves) of UVB?
Below is a picture of the action-spectrum for erythema (i.e. sunburn) and pigmentation (i.e. tanning).
As you can see from the erythema curve, the risk of burning increases steeply when the wavelength of UVB shrinks below 310 nanometres (nm). At the same time, the peak of pigmentation from UVA is 340 nm and covers a much wider spectrum than the UVB.
As you can see in the image to the right, the action spectrum for melanogenesis (melanin creation) corresponds broadly to the spectrum for erythema and it is no doubt that the more narrow action spectrum for vitamin D synthesis falls within the peak of melanin creation.
In nature, it is only when the sun is at the zenith (right above you, 90 degrees above the horizon) and the sky is clear that it’s full spectrum can reach the earth. This undisturbed solar-radiation can occur only in the tropics (from latitude 23.5 South to 23.5 North).
Even when the sun is at zenith, hardly any UVB-rays shorter than 300 nm reach the earth. The irradiance (i.e. electromagnetic power) below 310 nm is very small but still the cumulative effect from lengthy exposure can cause sunburn.
If we move to latitudes north or south of 45 degrees, the irradiance from UVB-waves shorter than 315 nm is very small during summer and practically non-existent during six to nine months of the year.
This means that if you are staying north (or south) of latitude 45 degrees, you have to work very hard (i.e. stay longer in the sun a clear day) in order to get a sunburn if your skin-type is not extremely fair (skin-type I). Unfortunately and consequently, you then also have to work very hard to get any vitamin D from the natural sun.
This is why the general and common advice from “experts” to stay away from the midday sun, is applicable only in the tropics (and not even there to 100%).
Here is a very good site that presents UVB-statistics in USA: http://uvb.nrel.colostate.edu
As an example of one of the many outputs from that site, here is the measurements of UV-irradiance for Denver, Colorado at noon 1 July. As you can see, even when the sun is at its highest in Denver, there is actually not much UVB for your skin to make vitamin from.
Undisturbed sunlight when the sun is in or close to zenith (right above us) and when there are no clouds or pollution contains about 6% UVB in relation to UVA (according to North-American standards. If using European ICE-standard, the amount UVB in sunlight is about 3.6%. (Read more about this difference in standards below). The total UV-light makes up about 8% of the total energy in sunlight (see image below).
This ideal sunlight is, however, not easy to find in nature. Because of the different ability for long (UVA) and short (UVB) waves to penetrate obstacles on their way from the sun to the earth, the amount of UVA and UVB that really can reach your skin, varies considerably depending on several different circumstances.
Here are the most important conditions that influence on the relationship between UVA and UVB in nature:
- The angle between the horizon and the sun (i.e. how high the sun is in the sky). This depends of course on the time of the day and your latitude. The higher the sun stands, the more UVB (while the amount of UVA stays the same for a longer time).
- Clouds and pollution. UVA penetrates those obstacles more easily than UVB.
- Elevation above the sea-level. You will get more UVB the closer to the sun you are.
- Glass. UVA-rays do penetrate glass, UVB-rays don’t.
Here is a graph showing how UVA and UVB change during the time of the day and for different dates of the year in Washington DC …>>>
The conclusion from all this is that it is almost impossible to say exactly how much UVB you will get from the natural sun.
Dermatologists, cosmetologists, MD’s and manufacturers of sun protection cosmetics got it wrong
Here is why the advice you have gotten from dermatologists, medical authorities and in advertisements for sun-protection cosmetics, has been (and still is) very, very wrong.
I am sure you have heard the mantra repeated several times in glossy magazines and other media: “Have tan only early in the morning or late in the afternoon. That is when the sun is weakest and the risk for skin-damage is lowest. Stay away from sunshine in the middle of the day when it is as strongest!”
This often comes in combination with this advice: “Always wear sunscreen lotions with as high SPF factor as possible. Apply it at least 20 minutes before you go outside and re-apply every two hours!”
It is probably the worst ever skin care advice you can get. Why? Here is why …
It is guaranteed to expose your skin to only UVA and very little, if any, UVB.
And why is that not good? Because …
- It will encourage you to stay longer in the “UVB-weak” (but full of UVA) sunlight in order to get a tan. And, as you remember from the table above, UVA is more photo-aging than UVB.
- It will not give you any benefits of sun-exposure, only disadvantages. You will not get any vitamin D and you will not build more melanin that would be your natural protection towards over-exposure.
- The tan you will get (if you already have some melanin in your skin) will disappear quickly.
Why driving a truck and using SPF sunscreen is the same thing when it comes to giving you wrinkles.
It is a tragedy (but good proof of stupidity and brainwash) to see the readers’ comments to this image of a sun-damaged truck-driver face which is circulating online.
The new “Face of L'Oréal”
Most of the comments go in line with this … “For sure, this will make me never step outside without SPF lotion.”
In practice the poor truck-driver in the picture has, involuntarily, followed the exact advice from dermatologist and other skin care “experts”. But instead of avoiding the midday sun and wearing a SPF sunscreen, he got exactly the same effect just by driving his truck.
Sitting at the steering wheel, he has exposed the left side of his face only to UVA-rays. It doesn’t matter if he had the window closed or open because even with the window open, the sunshine that would hit his face would be from the sun at a low angle above the horizon. And as you now know, when the sun is low, only UVA will reach the earth. And if he had the window closed, it would filter all UVB and let only UVA through to his face.
If you are surprised that you are getting wrinkles even though you followed the advice from “skin care specialists’” and sunscreen manufacturers, now you know why. With this information, would you ever trust the advice from such “experts” again?
For the correct way of how to use the UV-light in natural sunshine for healthy tanning, see this article about how to tan.
Is a tanning bed a good substitute to sunshine?
In conclusion, to get the right balance of UVB and UVA in the nature is almost impossible since it depends on too many different circumstances.
In a tanning-bed, however, this is very easy. Just read the specification of the lamps. Or rather, have the staff in the tanning salon explain to you how much UVB their different beds have and advise you which to choose depending on your goal.
Personally, I still try to get my UVB/vitamin D from the natural sun as much as possible. Read to the end of this article and find out why.
Health- and Standardisation- Authorities get it wrong.
Unfortunately also authorities get it wrong when they, with the zeal to protect you from burning, make regulations for indoor tanning beds.
In Europe, for example, the European “0.3” regulation makes it almost impossible to provide “vitamin D tanners” with a decent amount of UVB. In general, the regulations for indoor tanning beds forces a “heath-tanner” to stay a long time in the tanning bed in order to get a decent amount of vitamin D. This means that you have to expose yourself to more damaging UVA-rays during a much longer time than if the regulations would have been more adapted to healthy vitamin D tanning.
Tanning salon owners have their focus on cosmetic tanners, not on providing UV-light for healthy tanning.
There are more things that make it even more difficult for you if you are seeking out indoor tanning with the goal of getting vitamin D. Most tanning salons are very much focused on customers that want a dark tan as fast as possible. Therefore, the knowledge and information about the different roles of UVA and UVB is translated into “tanning levels” (Level 1,2,3,4) or “speed of tanning” (fast, faster or fastest). As a rule, the higher “level” or the “faster” tanning, the more UVA (immediate oxidation of existing melanin in your skin).
That is why you might feel a little bit lost when you come to a tanning salon for the first time and want to tan for vitamin D and not primarily for a dark tan.
Even if the regulations in the USA insanely severely restrict what the tanning salon staff can say about the health benefits of tanning, they should at least be allowed to inform you about the amount of UVB from the tanning beds in their salon.
There are protocols for “beauty-tanning goals” where consideration is made for, among other things, the tanner’s skin-type and present level of pigmentation when recommending which type of bed and how long the session should be.
There are not yet any similar protocols for the tanning salon staff to follow when customers comes for the purpose of getting vitamin D. The balance between making “illegal” health-claims and answering questions from customers regarding how to use UV-light for healthy tanning is very delicate. In order for tanning salon-owners to be on the safe side, they are advised by their branch-organisations to answer any questions in this way …
“For those who weigh the risk/benefit of UV exposure, indoor tanning facilities provide a controlled environment for obtaining a cosmetic tan, responsibly and in moderation. Exposures are delivered according to individual skin type and with a timing system that reduces the risk of overexposure and sunburn. For more information on the positive effects of UV, visit sunislife.com.”
This is probably not a very helpful answer for those who want to know if the beds in a tanning salon can provide them with vitamin D or not. That’s why if you are searching for a salon where you can get vitamin D it is better to stick to factual questions about the percentage of UVB in the different tanning beds in the salon. That might be your only chance to get an adequate answer without putting both you and the tanning salon employee in an awkward situation.
As a rule of thumb, my recommendation to a vitamin D tanner is to use the tanning beds with higher amount (4-6% in the USA and 2-3% in Europe) of UVB but with half the exposure time than the maximum recommended time for cosmetic tanning. Those beds are always equipped with low-pressure lamps for the body. If they have high pressure lamps (which rarely give any UVB below 315 nm) for the face, you should ask the staff to switch them off before you lie down in the tanning bed.
Please note that the tanning advice for cosmetic tanning should already be adjusted to your skin-type (level of pigmentation).
The UVB-percentage in a tanning bed is the key for successful use of UV-light for healthy indoor tanning.
Now I believe you understand why it is essential to know how much UVB a tanning bed emits.
According to the regulations for lamp-manufacturers, the amount of UVB should be stated on the tubes as a percentage in relationship to UVA.
If you are looking for information on the Internet about this, it might get complicated and you are bound to find some seemingly contradictory information.
This is because the division between UVA and UVB is defined differently in Europe and in North-America. In Europe (according to the ISO-standard) the wavelength of UVA is defined as 400-315 nm and UVB as 315-280 nm. In North-America, UVA is defined as 400-320 nm and UVB as 320-280 nm.
This means that it is not easy to directly compare the UVB-percentage in a lamp made for tanning salons in North-America and a lamp made for use in Europe. Furthermore, since the wavelength spectra in not linear, it is not possible to use a simple conversion factor.
As a very rough estimate, based upon plotting the curves from a large number of lamps (a special thanks to Cosmedico for providing this information), the factor of 1.66 can be used (i.e. dividing the percentage for an American lamp with 1.66 will give you a rough estimate of the percentage according to the European standard).
Here is an example of the specification for UVA and UVA from a data-sheet for a UV-light lamp from Lighttech with strong (i.e. that makes it possible to produce vitamin D in your skin) amount of UVB for a health-tanner. This is the lamp I use in order to get my vitamin D during winter. This lamp is not allowed to use within the EU due to the regulations there.
The problem for manufacturers of UV-light lamps is to make tubes for non-medical use that are safe to use by anyone with skin-type 2 and higher. The optimal spectrum for vitamin D creation is dangerously close to the erythema area. Even a lamp like the one from Lighttech specified in the image above, needs to be used with caution. Overexposure can easily cause burning.
The UVB action-spectra for vitamin D creation – all UVB is not equal when it comes to vitamin D.
Having read all the above, you might think that tanning beds might be a good alternative to the natural sun in order to get a controlled exposure to UV-light, both for a darker skin-tone and for vitamin D.
For health-tanners there is however one more curve that has to be added to the erythema and pigmentation curves in the image above. That is the action spectra for vitamin D creation in your skin.
The action-spectra for vitamin D used by most manufacturers of UV-light lamps is established by CIE (International Commission on Illumination) in their publication: “CIE 174:2006 Action Spectrum for the Production of Previtamin D3 in Human Skin” (http://div6.cie.co.at/?i_ca_id=611&pubid=187).
This is an image with an excerpt from that publication showing the most important conclusion. (If you want to get the complete document, you can buy it for 57€ from here: http://www.techstreet.com/standards/cie/174_2006?product_id=1276866)
Please note the sentence marked with yellow. The consequence of this is that, theoretically and practically, there is a part of the North-American standard for UVB, namely 315-320 nm, which will not give you any vitamin D.
Why I still prefer the natural sun
There are no doubts that indoor tanning can be a good substitute to the natural sun when it comes to vitamin D synthesis in your skin. I have proved it on myself and there are also hundreds of other studies that prove it. Like Dr. Holick writes in his book “The Vitamin D Solution”
“A UVB photon (packet of energy) is a photon whether it is produced by the sun or by a tanning bed with fluorescent lamps.”
Still, if I have the chance to get my UVB from the natural sun, I rather chose that before a tanning bed. Even if it means frequent travels to sunny places during the “vitamin D winter” in the place where I normally live.
I am convinced that the real sun gives us so much more health benefits than “only” vitamin D. Already the ancient Indian wisdom of healing knew that each of the colours in the rainbow had its own specific positive influence on the body. Modern science has confirmed many of those benefits. For example red light helps to rejuvenate the body by restoring damaged collagen in the skin and blue light cleans the skin from impurities (like acne). Green light has been proven to improve the cardiac-vascular system.
What about full-spectrum lamps that mimics the “perfect sunshine” for indoor tanning beds? Wouldn't such lamps create the perfect man-made substitute to natural sunlight?
Well, while it is true that experiments (in Soviet factories) have shown that substituting ordinary, “white light”, light-bulbs with full-spectrum lamps did cut the sickness rate among workers in half, for some reason, this never became a mainstream practice.
Experiments with full spectrum lamps has also been made for indoor tanning. However, this turned out not to be commercially viable since those lamps did not give enough fast tan (immediate pigmentation) to satisfy the, at that time, most dominant patrons to indoor tanning salons (i.e. the “become as dark as possible as fast as possible” cosmetic tanners).
But there is a new “light in the tunnel” for healthy indoor tanning.
Lately, the beleaguered (by the sun-scare lobby) indoor tanning industry is trying to find new ways to rejuvenate their business as well as their customers' skin. “Red light therapy” has become very popular as it turns out really to improve the texture of the many wrinkled faces out there (most of them created by using too much sun-protection cosmetics).
This has led to a range of new lamps for red-light skin-rejuvenation, often in combination with blue light for skin-cleansing.
So what about combining the red and blue light with UV-light? Maybe that would create the perfect indoor tanning system? UVB for vitamin D and melanin creation for a longer lasting tan and protection towards over-exposure to UVA. A slight touch of UVA for giving that golden hue to the already existing melanin. Plus red and blue light for skin-rejuvenation and as countermeasures to any photo-aging effects of the UV-light components.
It definitely sounds like the optimal solution for healthy indoor tanners. And maybe it is. I am actually right now participating in the trials of exactly such lamps from one of the larger manufacturers of UV-light lamps. The challenge is to find exactly the right balance. This is not easy because choosing the best wavelength for vitamin D, will mean shorter exposure time in order not to burn while the red and blue lights need longer time in order to give any rejuvenating effects.
There are still some modifications that have to be done before I can give the verdict: “Recommended by the Tanning Guru”. As soon as the trials are finalized, I will report from the results here on The Tanning Blog.
In the meantime, don't hesitate to use indoor tanning according to the advise above for how to use UV-light for healthy tanning and please let us know your experience in the comments below.