Tanning beds are a popular method of getting a uniform tan without having to spend hours sunbathing.
Some people choose tanning beds or tanning booths as a convenient way of getting a glowy tan all year round.
While others still believe the myths that tanning beds are a safe tanning method compared to sun exposure, a safer source of getting vitamin D, or that getting a sun base before outdoor sun exposure will prevent their skin from getting sunburned.
Tanning beds are NOT safer than the sun. Science tells us that there’s no such thing as a safe tanning bed, tanning booth, or sun lamp. Indoor tanning can increase the risk of developing the two most common types of skin cancer — squamous cell carcinoma by 58% and basal cell carcinoma by 24%.1[L1] Using tanning beds before age 20 can increase your chances of developing melanoma by 47%, and the risk increases with each use.2
When it comes to vitamin D, tanning beds don’t do anything. Your body needs UVB rays to make vitamin D, while tanning beds emit mainly UVA rays.
Overall, tanning beds will make your skin age faster, make your stretch marks look more visible, and increase the chances of skin cancer. These risks are not part of today’s topic, but we still wanted to give a you warning. Now let’s jump to another possible side effect of tanning beds, tanning bed rash!
What is tanning bed rash?
Imagine you just got out of the tanning bed, and your skin starts feeling itchy and red. The tanning bed rash starts as a red spot, and during the next days, it starts spreading, usually on the legs and stomach, and gets worse.
Usually, these symptoms are related to tanning bed rash, but it could be a case of allergy, heat rash, or even sunburn from the tanning bed.
Tanning bed rash starts as a small red and itchy spot, and spreads on larger areas of the body, evolving into splotchy red spots (sometimes even white) that feel very itchy.
What causes tanning bed rash?
Tanning bed rash can be caused by several factors.
If you start the tanning sessions with dry skin, the UV lamps will evaporate all the moisture left on the surface of your skin layers, leaving your skin feeling itchy and flaky.
UV Ray Overexposure
Tanning beds emit a mix of UVA and UVB rays to make your skin tan. As the Australian Sunsmart website puts it, “The levels of UV radiation emitted from solariums can be up to six times as strong as the midday summer sun’.
This overload of UV exposure can cause skin rash, especially if you haven’t used tanning beds in a long time or your skin just isn’t used to this amount of exposure.
Your skin can’t always absorb all the UV radiation and in this case, you will be experiencing not just a rash but hives that are manifested with raised red bumps on the skin. You need to choose best UV for tanning.
Allergic reaction to the tanning bed
Tanning bed rashes or even worse allergies can be caused due to hygienic reasons or products that are left in the tanning bed before you jump in.
People usually tan nude or with little clothes. Their sweat or the lotions they have used previously may have been left in the bed and you can come in contact with them due to poor cleaning.
On the other hand, even cleaning solutions used for bed tans can cause tanning bed rashes in people that are allergic to certain ingredients.
All of these factors, combined with sweat, can cause tanning bed hives.
This type of rash is different from UV overexposure rash. Miliaria, also known as prickly rash, is a heat rash caused by blocked sweat ducts.
This causes the sweat to be trapped in the skin, unable to escape, therefore causing heat rash. Miliaria is manifested with red bumps and blisters with a prickly itching sensation.
This type of rash is most common in people who get heat rashes even when they are sweating during everyday activities.
How to prevent tanning bed rash?
Prevention is better than treatment, so here are some pieces of advice that you need to follow in order to prevent a rash from developing.
Hydrating your Skin
Hydrating your skin is crucial to prevent dry and flaky skin after tanning sessions. Not only is it important to use a cream and restore your skin’s barrier before tanning, but it is also highly recommended to use lotion on the skin even after the sessions.
There are many after-tanning lotions on the market that deeply hydrate the skin.
Our favorite is Hawaiian Tropic Exotic Coconut After Sun Body Butter which has a thick texture and it’s formulated with coconut oil, shea butter, and avocado oil to offer 12-hours moisturized skin.
Be careful of overexposure
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, sun exposure is one of the main factors contributing to premature aging and cancerous lesions.
However, you are a grown-up and you can make your own choices, so if you still decide to use a tanning bed, keep in mind to take it slow.
If it’s your first time going into tanning beds, or maybe you haven’t gotten a tan recently, you should start slowly and limit your time and exposure to give your skin a chance to develop a base tan and get used to the exposure.
Choose a safe and reliable tanning salon
This advice is very important when it comes to the training of the staff as well as hygiene.
If your tanning salon relies on the beds getting cleaned by their users, make use you clean it yourself either way before getting in; you know, just in case.
If you have any known allergies to certain ingredients in the cleaning solutions, you can ask the staff beforehand, and maybe bring your own disinfectant in case the salon doesn’t have one suitable for you.
A great option would be to choose standing tanning beds in order to avoid any skin contact.
Talk about it
Talk to the tanning salon’s staff about different medications you take because some of them can make your skin more sensitive to lamp UV exposure.
Also, check with them about any lotion, oil, or skincare you may be thinking of applying before going in the tanning bed.
Go Nude in Tanning bed
To prevent heat rash from happening, it is recommended to go nude in the tanning bed to reduce the possibility of heat rash. Also, reduce the time spent inside the beds each session to avoid any type of tanning bed rash.
What can you do when a tanning bed rash happens?
Tanning bed rashes usually last for a couple of days and with proper care, they go away on themselves. If you are experiencing a rash, stop using tanning beds or getting any kind of UV exposure.
Cover up and use sun protection if you are going outdoors. Wear cotton clothes so that they don’t rub on your skin and irritate it.
Avoid scratching the rash. This will delay healing time and make it worse. Sometimes, scratches can create space for bacteria to penetrate and your rash will get infected, making matters worse.
Use lukewarm water when you are showering. Heat will irritate your skin even more. Use a gentle body wash, fragrance-free, allergen-free, alcohol-free and with mild surfactants.
We recommend Lipikar Wash ap+ moisturizing body & face wash by La Roche Posay. This cleanser is created for people with eczema and it’s very gentle and moisturizing.
Speaking about moisturizers, you need to avoid dry skin. Use a good cream for your body that will provide moisture and hydration to your skin.
You need something that can strengthen your skin barrier and help with the recovery of the skin. Look for a fragrance-free, allergen-free, alcohol-free, moisturizer like Vanicream Moisturizing Lotion. This lotion is perfect for sensitive and dry skin and can be used daily.
Do you need to see a doctor about Tanning Bed Rash?
Usually, tanning skin rashes resolve on their own and with a little bit of care, everything will go back to normality in a few days.
However, if the rash is persistent for more than 5-7 days, it is recommended to talk to a dermatologist and see what factors are contributing to the delayed healing.
If at any point, the rash starts getting infected (the upper layer of the rash starts getting white to yellow or you notice pus coming out of it), or you develop a fever, you should immediately seek medical help.
Frequently Asked Questions
Tanning bed rash is a type of skin dermatitis triggered by allergic reactions and/or environmental irritants. Since no bacteria, viruses, or fungi are involved, this means that tanning bed rash is not contagious.
If you prevent any further irritation on your tanning bed rash, it can go away without any scarring in a couple of days. If it persists for more than a week, talk to your doctor.
[L1]1,2, American Academy of Dermatology. Indoor tanning fact sheet. Last accessed June 23, 2022.