Whenever we’re nearing the start of the summer season, you probably want to know the answer to this question: How long does it take to tan?
GOOD NEWS! You can get a tan at any temperature, as long as the sun is out.
If you can’t get to the beach right now, though, don’t worry; there are other great tanning methods you can use to get darker skin too!
Keep reading this guide to learn how to (safely) tan fast.
How Long Does It Take to Tan?
The short answer?
A couple of hours under the sun for those with fairer skin. Darker-skinned people will need less time to tan.
The best answer to this question would be at least 1 to 2 hours. BUT THAT’S WITHOUT taking into account things like:
- Skin tone
- Skin type
- How long you sunbathe
- And so much more
Tanning results will really depend on a lot of different factors, so take the statement above with a grain of salt.
For more accurate answers, check out the information below on skin types, the proper tanning process, and helpful tanning products.
Different Skin Types = Different Results
Did you know your genetics affect how long it takes you to get a tan?
That’s because darker skin types have MORE melanin production, while those with pale and fairer skin have LESS of it.
If your body makes a lot of a pigment called melanin, the color of your hair, skin, and eyes gets darker easily. Conversely, little melanin means lighter skin and that’s why pale skin exists.
Remember this: The darker your complexion, the quicker it takes to tan in the sun.
To test this out on your own body, start with minimal sun exposure (around 10-15 minutes at first) to prevent your skin from burning.
Apply sunscreen 20 minutes BEFORE sunbathing to block out harmful UV radiation too—overexposure to UV rays could put you at risk for skin cancer!
Now, observe how your body reacts before you extend your skin tanning time.
Gradually add in a few more minutes each time, and DON’T go crazy because you want to tan faster. ALWAYS put your safety first!
How to Start: Proper Tanning Procedures and Time Required
How long does it take to get a tan in the sun? How long does it take in a professional tanning session?
There are three common ways to get a tan, but the results, duration, and side effects differ.
Make sure you understand these completely before you decide on one!
The Natural Way: Under the Sun
Sunbathing by the pool or the beach isn’t just a form of relaxation; it’s also the most common way to get a tan.
However, sun tanning for a long time (especially without adequate protection) is VERY DANGEROUS for your skin and body!
Why? Well, prolonged sun exposure causes two types of UV rays to permeate the skin.
- UVB rays cause the painful burning, swelling, and redness associated with sunburns. They’re also responsible for two types of skin cancer: basal and squamous cell carcinoma.
- UVA rays trigger melanin production (tanning!) BUT they go further into your skin, damaging your immune system and protective skin layers. These can cause premature aging and a deadly form of cancer known as melanoma.
- Although the sun also emits UVC-type rays, these are absorbed by the ozone before they reach the earth, so they’re harmless to humans.
How to Tan Properly
Makes you think twice about going outdoors without any sunscreen on, right? So read these tips below:
- ALWAYS put on products with SPF factor, even if your goal is to tan. The higher the SPF, the more protection you get from UV radiation.
- You should also go sunbathing EARLY IN THE DAY or during LATE AFTERNOON. Around 10 AM to 3 PM is when the sun is at its hottest (and when it’s the most dangerous for your skin!)
- If you’re worried about your tanning results, know that these products do not COMPLETELY block out the sun. In fact, a sunscreen with SPF 15 will only filter around 93% of the sun’s rays, while SPF 30 will block around 97%. You’ll have more than enough sun exposure to get a good tan.
Here’s a bonus: Some researchers say that eating foods rich in beta-carotene (carrots, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, etc.) will speed up tanning, delay sunburns, and prevent skin damage. Sure doesn’t hurt to try it out!
How Long Does It Take to Tan This Way?
Start with 15 minutes on each side (30 minutes total), take breaks, and repeat if necessary.
Put on SPF 30 sunblock or higher for your first time, and make sure your skin DOESN’T BURN before lowering it to SPF 15.
The Easy Way: A Tanning Bed
Tanning beds are also popular options for people who want bronze, sun-kissed skin without having to go outdoors.
However, you should know that this is VERY UNSAFE and comes with a lot of RISKS.
Much like sunbathing, tanning lamps and tanning beds expose your skin to harmful UV radiation.
These tanning bed machines emit strong UVA and UVB to speed up melanin synthesis in your body, darkening your skin color and getting you tan faster.
BUT what’s the cost of convenience?
- Any type of UVA/UVB radiation from a tanning bed is labeled carcinogenic (cancer-causing).
- Tanning sessions can cause DNA damage and cell mutations.
- People who tan before the age of 35 have a 75% greater chance of getting melanoma.
- Exposure to the eyes may cause cataracts and even blindness.
Some sunbed users even claim that tanning beds help you build a base tan (to prevent future sunburns) and stimulate Vitamin D production (necessary for bone health), but these are simply NOT TRUE.
The extra melanin produced when you sit at a tanning bed is worth only SPF 4 AT MOST, so it’s much safer for you to stick to sunscreen.
As for Vitamin D production, you can get a much higher amount through a healthy daily supplement rather than from a sunbed.
How Long Does It Take to Tan This Way?
People usually see results after 3 or more tanning sessions.
The Quick Way: Self-Tanning Products
The SAFEST way to tan may not be LONG-LASTING, but it’s much, much better for your health.
If you opt for a spray tan, tanning lotion/bronzing lotion, or other self-tanning products, you can be certain that there will be NO HARMFUL RADIATION in the tanning process.
That’s why we suggest going the spray tan and lotion route if you really want to tan.
How Do They Work?
Well, tanning lotions and spray tans DO NOT utilize the heat of the sun to darken skin tones.
Instead, they use dihydroxyacetone (DHA), an active ingredient from plant sources that colors the top layer of your skin.
Here’s the good news: The FDA approves the use of DHA in a tanning lotion/spray tan, so there shouldn’t be any adverse effects on your health.
The only catch? Tanning lotions and other self-tanners only adhere to the topmost layer of your skin, so it’ll fade away after 5-7 days—the time it takes for dead skin cells to peel off.
Considering the tanning lotions method is SAFER FOR YOU, though, we don’t think that’s a big deal.
Just make sure to regularly apply your sunscreen even after self-tanning!
How Long Does It Take to Tan This Way?
Depending on the product you choose, you can tan in just a few minutes or a few hours!
If it’s your first time, you can book a service at a trusted salon.
That way, you’ll be more comfortable (and get a more even tan afterward!)
Tips for a Safe and Effective Tanning Session
If you must tan, make sure you follow these safety precautions for the best results!
1. Exfoliate Your Skin
Around 3-5 days before tanning, use skin exfoliators.
Sloughing away dead skin will encourage new skin cells to regenerate, so your tan will appear faster and stay longer.
However, DO NOT exfoliate right before tanning, especially if you have a sensitive skin type.
Immediately exposing this new layer to the sun is BAD, as its harmful rays will penetrate deeper into your skin.
Treat exfoliated skin as baby skin—you have to be VERY GENTLE with it!
2. Use Sunscreen to Protect Your Skin
Before going out to any hot or sunny place, make sure to apply adequate sunscreen (enough to fit a shot glass).
We’ve already talked about the dangers of being exposed to radiation, so you should know just how important it is to have a layer of protection on!
Those with FAIRER a skin type should use higher SPF too, if possible.
Lastly, reapply your sunblock EVERY TWO HOURS, since the effects will wear off over time. Reapply even more frequently if…
- You sweat
- Come in contact with water, or
- You expect to spend the majority of your day outdoors
3. Keep Your Skin Hydrated
Some may not know this, but keeping yourself hydrated will also help protect your skin from the sun.
Take a cool shower before, during, and after tanning to reduce any redness, swelling, spotting, or burning, then apply moisturizer after to refresh your skin.
It’s also a great idea to drink a ton of water and fluids to prevent dehydration.
4. Wear Shades to Protect Your Eyes
We know we’ve been focusing on your skin in this article, but you shouldn’t forget about your eyes too!
Radiation is not only damaging to the skin; it’s also VERY HARMFUL to your eyes.
With that said, make sure to bring your favorite pair of shades with you the next time you go sunbathing!
As an added precaution, you can close your eyes while you’re sitting out in the sun to prevent overexposure.
5. Put on Some Lip Balm
Did you know that intense heat can dry out and burn your lips too? That’s one of the reasons for dry and chapped lips.
Now, if you wear sunscreen to prevent your skin from burning, you should apply lip balm to protect your lips from chapping!
Pick a moisturizing one with SPF protection for the best results (and please, ditch the lip gloss—it won’t do you any good here!)
6. Use Only Quality Products on Your Skin
Lastly, but most importantly, treat your skin WITH CARE.
You shouldn’t just be after a deep, golden brown complexion; at the end of the day, you should aim for a HEALTHY and BEAUTIFUL one!
Besides following the safety measures above, this entails using only the BEST and most HIGH-QUALITY products on your face.
Unfortunately, some popular options may, in fact, be damaging to your skin, especially if they’re full of parabens, sulfates, and other icky chemicals.
That’s why you should always check the product label to make sure you’re only applying natural and nutrient-dense ingredients to your body!
How Do I Make My New Skin Tone Last Longer?
Now that you’ve got your beautiful, golden tan, you probably don’t want it to go away anytime soon.
KEEP YOUR SKIN TAN FOR LONGER by following these tips:
- Cold showers are your new best friend! Keep your bath water cool to prevent skin dehydration and peeling after a full day out in the sun.
- If you used a self-tanner, cleanse your skin gently so you don’t accidentally rub off your tan.
- Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Dryness drives away the dewy glow that you want.
- Discover the magic of body oil! Slather on some natural botanical goodness to highlight your sleek, glowing, and sun-kissed tan.
- Fill up your plate with some beta-carotenes. These fruits and vegetables will help develop and maintain a darker skin tone.
- Get your 8 glasses of water a day. Hydrating keeps your skin cells happy and healthy, so your tan will stay fresh and beautiful for much longer!
- Don white or light-colored clothing to look instantly tanned. The trick to making your skin tone stand out is by wearing something several shades lighter.
Now that you know the factors that go into a beautiful and long-lasting tan, you’re one step closer to getting the sun-kissed look you want!
You can totally still use the last of the comfortable summer heat to naturally darken your skin tone and achieve a bronze, glowy complexion that’ll last you through the rainy months.
Just remember to TAN SAFELY by wearing sunblock and following all of our important tips. Have fun!
August 9, 2021 – Updated article formatting and content
July 14, 2021 – Reviewed and updated article links