The Tanning Process

Tanning takes place in the skin's outermost layer, the epidermis. About five percent of the cells in your epidermis are special cells called melanocytes. When exposed to Ultraviolet B light (short waves), melanocytes produce melanin — the pigment which is ultimately responsible for your tan. The pinkish melanin travels up through the epidermis and is absorbed by other skin cells. When exposed to Ultraviolet A light (long waves), the melanin oxidizes or darkens. This darkening is your skin's way of protecting itself from too much Ultraviolet light.

Everyone has the same number of melanocytes in their body — about five million. But your heredity dictates how much melanin your body's melanocytes naturally will produce. For example, the skin of African Americans contains enough melanin to create a black or brown skin color, while the skin of Caucasians has less melanin and is pale. In order to most effectively avoid overexposure, a tan should be acquired gradually. A sunburn occurs when too much ultraviolet light reaches the skin and disrupts the tiny blood vessels near the skin's surface.

Understanding Ultraviolet Light

Ultraviolet light, whether produced by the sun or an indoor tanning unit, consists of two main components, UVA and UVB, both of which contribute differently to your tan. Indoor tanning equipment utilizes a carefully formulated and controlled mixture of the two light waves, designed to tan you with a minimized risk of sunburn. Tanning outdoors does not give you this control, because the sun emits the entire spectrum of ultraviolet light. That's why we call indoor tanning "smart tanning".

The Epidermis

Your skin's epidermis consists of two layers: the germinative layer (the "living" epidermis) and the horny layer (the "dead" epidermis). When exposed to ultraviolet light, melanocytes in the germinative layer produce melanin which is absorbed by the surrounding cells. This creates a protective barrier from ultraviolet light reaching deeper, more sensitive layers of the skin. This whole tanning process is the body's own natural defense against sunburn and skin damage.

Why Redder isn't Better

Many people grow up thinking that if they don't experience a slight red or pinkish tinge after they tan that they didn't "get anything." The truth is that the red or pinkish tinge you see is actually sunburn — your skin's worst enemy. The fact is that sunburns we experience due to lack of information when we are growing up are the very things that lead to skin damage later in life. Smart tanners know that the key to avoiding sunburn is moderation in terms of UV exposure. The best way to ensure a "smart tan" is to take advantage of the years of research that have gone into tanning equipment to provide you with a controlled, predictable dosage of ultraviolet light. Also, use lotions to moisturize before and after tanning and, if you do tan outdoors, remember to always wear SPF's. Several other environmental factors come into play with outdoor UV light, making exposure unpredictable. Don't rely on the color of your skin to tell you when to get out of the sun. Overexposure isn't evident sometimes until hours after the sun's gone down. It's better to use a sunscreen and to wear protective clothing than to risk overexposure which can lead to skin damage.