Life on Earth would not be possible without sunlight and the tanning process is a natural and intended response to sun exposure. Let’s explore how indoor tanning has captured the sun’s rays to create smart tanning. Ultraviolet light from the sun and from indoor tanning units 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. That’s why we call indoor tanning smart tanning. The tanning process takes place in the skins outer most layer, the epidermis. About 5% of the cells in your epidermis are special cells called melanocytes. When skin is exposed to UVB light, melanocytes produce melanin, the pigment ultimately responsible for your tan. The pinkish melanin travels up through the epidermis and is absorbed by other skin cells. Melanin absorbs UVA light and oxidizes or darkens creating a protective barrier. The tanning process is your body’s natural way of receiving the benefits of moderate UV exposure while protecting itself. Sunburn occurs when too much UV exposure disrupts the tiny blood vessels near the skins surface, turning your skin red. Researchers believe repeated sunburn, NOT moderate tanning, is responsible for skin damage and should be avoided. A smart tan should be acquired gradually following the guidelines set by your salon professional.
Skin’s Three Layers
First is the epidermis which consists of two layers. The horny layer which is the outer layer and the dead skin sealant. The second layer of the epidermis is called the germanative layer. This is the “living epidermis,” where the tanning process occurs. In the epidermis there are three main cells:
Basal Cells – Parent cells that line the base of the epidermis.
Keratinocytes – The skin cells that become tanned. They make up most of your epidermis, creating the seal between skin and the outside environment.
Melanocytes – The very special pigment-making cells found at the base of the epidermis. They produce and emit melanin – the protein that turns brown and gives your skin its tan.
The second layer of skin is the dermis which is the middle layer: Elastic tissue. Flexibility and strength.
And the third layer is the subcutaneous layer. This is the fatty tissue that binds the skin to the body.
1. UVB shines down on the skin, which stimulates melanocytes into activity.
2. Melanocyte cells, triggered by UVB, begin producing melanosomes which contain melanin and distribute them evenly throughout the keratinocyte cells in the lower epidermis.
3. UVA shines down on skin, strikes the melanin that has been produced, blows it up like popcorn and creates an umbrella-like shield of protection around the keratinocyte skin cells that we call a tan.
4. Oxygen is required for UVA to complete its main job: darkening the pinkish melanin and turning it brown. Your skin gets oxygen from the bloodstream, which is why good blood circulation is important for your tan.
5. Keratin Production: During the tanning process, your skins keratinocyte cells also begin producing a substance called keratin at an accelerated rate. Keratin is a fibrous protein that provides structure to the epidermis. As keratin works its way up to the surface of the epidermis, it thickens – a process called acanthosis. This helps protect the skin from sunburn.
6. Sloughing Off: Your epidermis replaces itself every 30 days. As skin cells slough off, that’s why your tan fades!
Something you need to understand is there are two different types of tanning that takes place during the tanning process. Something we call immediate tanning vs. delayed tanning.
=> Immediate Tanning: Darkening pre-existing melanin in the skin. More likely to occur in dark-skinned tanners. Also called IPD (Immediate Pigment Darkening.)
=> Delayed Tanning: The tanning process in full. Melanin is produced and then oxidized. Also called DPD (Delayed Pigment Darkening.)
Now sunburn as you know is damage on top of your tan. Too much UV light exposure causes capillaries in your skin to swell or burst. Immediate sunburn shows up right away or several hours after UV overexposure. It shows up quickly and may take anywhere from minutes to hours to fade. It could blend in with delayed sunburn. Delayed sunburn shows up 10-12 hours after UV overexposure and can last for a long time. This happens when a person receives a significant amount of overexposure.
The tanning process as we said before is nature’s sunscreen. The tanning process creates two different forms of natural protection against sunburn:
1. Melanin pigment literally enshrouds and shields skin cells in the epidermis, protecting each cell from getting too much UV exposure.
2. Extra keratin migrates to the surface of the skin, thickening it, which makes the skin naturally more resistant to sunburn.
Now let’s talk about the base tan. Millions of tanners come to tanning facilities to gain a “base tan” before summer or vacations. A tan multiplies the effectiveness of sunscreen. SPF 15 on a person with a base tan whose skin is four times more resistant to sunburn becomes an SPF 60. SPF 15 x 4 = 60.
This is why indoor tanning is tanning at its best: We control the amount and type of UV exposure to give you the best tan possible while minimizing your risk of sunburn.