Understanding How Your Skin Tans

The process is simple, and works the same whether you tan indoors or outdoors. UV light is the catalyst, and a pigment in your skin called melanin does the rest. Tanning takes place in the skin’s outermost layer, the epidermis. About 5% of the cells in your epidermis are special cells called melanocytes. When exposed to UVB light (short wave UV), melanocytes produce melanin, the pigment which is ultimately responsible for your tan. The melanin travels up through the epidermis and is absorbed by the other skin cells. When exposed to UVA(longer wave), the melanin oxidizes and darkens. This darkening is your skin’s way of protecting itself against too much UV light. 

Everyone has the same number of melanocytes in their body. But, your heredity dictates how much melanin your body’s melanocytes naturally will produce. In order to most effectively avoid overexposure, a tan should be acquired gradually. A sunburn occurs when too much UV reaches the skin and disrupts the tiny blood vessels near the skins surface. 

Why does a tan fade? Cells in the epidermis layer (living epidermis) are constantly reproducing and pushing older cells upward toward the horny layer (dead epidermis), where they are sloughed off in about one month. As your skin replaces it’s cells, the cells laden with melanin are removed. So the tanning process must continue with the new cells. 

Understanding UV light:

UV light, whether produced by the sun or an indoor tanning unit, consists of 2 main components, UVA and UVB, both of which contribute differently to your tan. Indoor tanning equipment utilizes a carefully formulated or 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 UV light, including the most intense rays that burn you more quickly. That’s why we call indoor tanning “Smart Tanning”.

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