While you probably heard warnings against overly tanning your skin, the perpetuation of a golden tan being attractive in our culture persists. It seems to be pretty unanimously agreed upon by dermatologists that excessive tanning is dangerous for your skin and utilizing tanning booths can be even more harmful. 


The amount of UVA rays from tanning booths or stalls is several times greater than that of the sun. Using a tanning booth before the age of 35 is said to increase your chances of malignant melanoma by 75 percent throughout your lifetime. 


Avoiding tanning beds or tanning booths at all costs is recommended. However, if you are going to be in intense sunlight, such as the Caribbean, and really want to get a light tan, there are safer ways and more dangerous ways to go about tanning. 


Jumping into sunbathing for an extended period with no sunscreen and no base tan is practically asking for a burn. So, how to tan while keeping your skin healthy? That is the balance you want to strike.


We’re going to show you how.


How to Tan Safely

If you insist on tanning but want to know how to tan safely, there are a few guidelines to follow to help prevent unnecessary damage to your skin while getting a sun-kissed glow. 


You must use at least a low SPF and start tanning slowly, working your way up as you build a base tan. When you tan, your skin produces melanin, a pigment designed to shield the layers of your dermis from further sun damage. Melanin will often appear a little later after you were out of the sun. This is why tans often show up a couple of hours or even a full day after you have been outside. 


If it is your first significant sun exposure of the season and you have fair skin, you will need to start with a shorter amount of time. For example, only spend 10 to 15 minutes tanning on the first day and slowly add more minutes as you build a tan throughout a couple of weeks. 


You must be realistic about your complexion and can’t expect to achieve a full natural tan in only a couple of days if you have very fair skin.


If you have lighter skin and no base tan, you should also start with SPF 15 to prevent getting burned (even if it is partially cloudy or overcast outside). People sometimes want to avoid using sunscreen, as they think it will prevent them from tanning at all. This is not the case; you can still slowly develop a tan using sunscreen. It just prevents harsh burns and quick Sunday image. 


At the very minimum, you should utilize an SPF 4 or SPF 8 to build a tan without burning.


How Long Does It Take to Tan

It can be challenging to figure out how to tan when you don’t know the amount of time it takes, especially if you are unfamiliar with the slow process of building that bronzed glow. So, is there an exact time? How long does it take to tan? The length of time it takes to get a tan varies significantly depending on your skin tone. It also matters how deep of a tan you are hoping for. If you want a light golden glow, it may only take a few hours to get some color if you already have a base tan built up. 


If you are starting with a very fair complexion, it could take two to three weeks of tanning (sometimes even more) to slowly adjust your skin to intense sunlight and build enough of a base tan to prevent getting burned. For some individuals, it can take a month to get a solid tan.


Generally speaking, give yourself at least a couple of weeks to get a tan. If you expect to be tanned within a day or two, you might overdo it and end up with a painful (and dangerous) burn.


How to Prep for a Tan

Prepping your body to tan will help achieve the most even glow and will help you tan slightly faster. Two crucial elements to remember are to stay very hydrated with lots of water and to exfoliate any rough patches of skin. 


Hydrating yourself will help improve circulation, and the better your blood flow, the faster your skin can produce melanin and heal itself from the initial pinkish color many individuals get while tanning. Therefore the quicker your results will be. 


Exfoliating your skin will remove dead skin cells which can provide a very minor shield against sun rays. Removing rough dead skin cells will give you a more even tan and can sometimes achieve the results more rapidly. 


Just use extreme caution not to over-exfoliate before sun exposure as this can increase your chances of burning. Do not use lotions that include products such as glycolic acid or alpha hydroxy acids that can also make you more sensitive to sun exposure and lead to sunburns. 


How to Tan Without Burning

If you are going to make your skin enduring tanning, at the very least, you will want to know how to tan without burning. After you have exfoliated, apply sunscreen, even if it is a low SPF, drink a big glass or bottle of water, and consider slathering on tanning oil


Natural oils, such as coconut, almond, jojoba, or Vitamin E oil, help moisturize the skin and can create a reflective layer to maximize tanning. These oils also help the skin maintain moisture, which is lost rapidly during the tanning process. 


While it might seem counterintuitive to put on sunscreen when you want to tan, the opposite is actually the case. Using a sunscreen, even a low SPF such as 4 or 8, will help your skin retain moisture which can speed the tanning process. It also prevents your skin from getting overly pink or burning, which will thwart any tanning efforts for a while, and increase your risk of skin cancer, not to mention premature aging and fine lines.


Sunscreen While Tanning

Selecting a sunscreen with at least SPF 8 is a good idea, or SPF 15 if you are fairer-skinned. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen and be sure to rub it in a circular motion everywhere your skin will be exposed. Take special care to get hard to reach areas. Don’t forget your ears, the back of your neck, the backside of arms and shoulders, behind your knees, the top of your feet and hands, and of course, your face.

Many sunscreens today are made as sprays. These can be great for getting hard to reach areas and spreading your SPF more effectively. Spray sunscreen still needs to be massaged around on your skin, though. 


The spray will come out in super small droplets, and while these may distribute over your skin nicely as a spritz, they will not cover all of the surfaces of your epidermis unless you spread these tiny droplets around. Spray and rub in these types of SPF.


Remember to use a lip balm with SPF or apply a little sunscreen to your lips. Your lips can get a burn, too, and they don’t need a golden tan. Burns on your lips can increase your risk of skin cancer in that area, too. The skin around lips is also thin and can show aging quickly if you burn it a few too many times.


Exposing Your Skin

While tanning, be sure to rotate your body and move your limbs to a variety of positions. If you are reclining on your back, everything on your backside is lacking sun exposure and will not tan evenly. 


Sunbathing for 15 minutes on one side and flipping over to do 15 minutes on the backside is a good start. Make sure to occasionally expose the outer side and inner side of your legs and the underside of your arms for the best, even results.


Be aware of your clothing or swimwear if you want to avoid tan lines. Tanning beds are not recommended, as they are worse for your skin than the actual sun. If you need to tan nude, try to find a private, fenced off area in your back yard, or just undo a bikini strap on the back. You can always lift portions of a bathing suit without fully exposing yourself to blend any potential tan lines. 


How to Get Tan Fast

If you have a beach vacation coming up, you might be wondering how to get tan fast. When trying to speed the process of tanning, use caution, as a single sunburn can increase your chances of skin cancer. Five or more sunburns can raise the risk of melanoma up to 80 percent in some individuals.


If you are near a body of water or a pool, resting on a floating pool mat can also speed up tanning. Do this with caution, as the reflective rays off of the water can also increase your chance of sunburns. The reflective quality of water around your body will give you an extra dose of sunlight and can speed your rate of tanning. 


For the same reason that drinking plenty of water can help a tan (improving circulation), getting a little exercise just before tanning can also speed up results. If you can fit in a quick jog or workout before sunbathing or even do a few minutes of jumping jacks to give blood flow moving this can improve circulation in the skin and help you tan slightly faster. 


The Quickest Way to Tan

If you are working on a natural tan, but need more instant results, consider a self-tanner or getting a spray tan. Self-tanners are also beneficial for those with skin that always burns and never tans. Sunless tanners can also work wonders on tan lines to blend these areas. 


Self-tanners have improved significantly in recent years, and there are now sunless tanners available in olive tones and cooler tones to more accurately match your skin color.


If you have olive skin, look for a sunless tanner with a green base or green tint. If you have cooler skin with bluish undertones, try a violet-based self-tanner. These will not come out green or violet. They will just look like more natural tans that your skin would produce, instead of the old school orange self-tanners.


How to Use Sunless Tanner

Getting 10 to 15 minutes of natural sunlight every day can be healthy for your Vitamin D levels. However, most dermatologists recommend that you avoid tanning and laying out in the sun. Melanoma is not something to mess around with, and you significantly increase your chances of it when you tan. 


If you are working on a subtle natural tan and want to give it a boost, or if you decide to skip the sun altogether, getting a professional spray tan or using a quality sunless tanner is an option that looks more natural and realistic now than ever before. So, how do you get a sunless tan?


Exfoliating your skin is even more critical before using sunless Tanner than it is for laying out in the sun to get a natural tan. Before applying self-tanner, make sure you shave anywhere you typically shave and use something like exfoliating gloves or mitts to scrub down your entire body, paying particular attention to areas such as your elbows, knees, ankles, feet, and creases such as your underarms. 


If you are applying your own self-tanner, instead of getting a spray tan, one of the best tips is to buy a self-tanner mitt for application. Sunless Tanner mitts are one of the best advances in self-tanners in recent years. These microfiber mitts help apply self-tanner incredibly evenly and provide the right amount of product to your skin. 


Simply pump the sunless tanner once or twice onto the mitt, apply it onto your skin, and rub it until it is distributed in that area thoroughly without any streaks. Self-tanning takes a little extra time to get it applied as evenly as possible. 


Give yourself at least 20 minutes to put on a self-tanner thoroughly and allow it to dry before dressing. Letting the sunless tanner set overnight will achieve the most accurate results. You can reapply sunless tanner for two or three days in a row to obtain a darker color. Gradual tanners are excellent for maintaining your glow after you’ve gotten the tan you want.


How to Turn a Sunburn into a Tan

If you’ve already spent time outside and had the unfortunate experience of getting a sunburn, you’re likely wondering how to turn a sunburn into a tan. For extremely fair-skinned individuals, this might not be entirely possible. 


Many people have such small amounts of melanin in their skin that once a burn heals, it will return to their normal skin tone. To increase your chances of turning a sunburn into a tan, you will need to pamper your skin and help it heal as much as possible without peeling. 


You will first want to cool your skin down with a soothing bath or in a refreshing shower. Do not use harsh soap or bath salts, as this can irritate the skin and cause painful stinging when you first burn. You can also use cold compresses on especially burned areas of your skin to stop the burn from progressing. 


On smaller areas, you can rub your skin with an ice cube. Just make sure you take breaks every couple of minutes to prevent damaging your skin with ice. The idea is to cool your skin down, not give yourself frostbite on top of the sunburn. 


Taking an anti-inflammatory such as Advil or Motrin can also reduce inflammation with a bad sunburn. Over-the-counter medications can also alleviate some of the pain and reduce mild symptoms such as chills that you might experience after the sunburn. 


For areas of sunburn that need a reduction in swelling, you can also try a hydrocortisone cream, which is an over-the-counter steroid used for topical application. Hydrocortisone is an anabolic steroid, not the type used by athletes, and safe for general use on your skin. You can reapply every few hours for the first day or two to reduce swelling, itching, or general irritation.


Natural Therapies for Healing a Burn and Promoting a Tan

For smaller areas, sliced up cucumber can cool, soothe, and moisturize the skin. Using a cucumber out of the refrigerator will feel comforting. You can rest pieces of cucumber on your skin and let them sit for a half-hour while watching TV. If you need help getting them to stay in place, slathering a small amount of moisturizer on your skin and then placing the cucumber slices can help them stick in place.


Aloe Vera is also a well-known sunburn relief. You want to get an Aloe Vera gel or lotion that is high in actual aloe content. Or if you have an Aloe plant, cutting off one of the leaves and then splitting it down the middle will give you direct access to its healing properties. 


Open up the blade of Aloe and carefully smooth the inside of the Aloe Vera onto your sunburn. Aloe leaves can scratch your skin if you rub them without caution, just do so slowly and avoid scratching the outer edges on sensitive skin. Aloe is known to be incredibly soothing and can help speed healing of burns. 


To avoid peeling, you can also try a diluted apple cider vinegar spritz. Cool your skin in the shower and then fill a spray bottle with half apple cider vinegar and half water. This unusual trick is said to realign the pH balance of your skin. Some say it also helps prevent peeling after a sunburn. 


Lightly mist the water/apple cider vinegar spray over your skin and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour and then rinse it off. You will smell like vinegar for this duration, but once you rinse it off, you will likely find you peel much less with your sunburn. 


Taking a skin vitamin, such as hair skin and nails supplements, for the week or two after sunburn can speed healing of your skin and help it restore itself to normal more quickly. Many hair, skin, and nail vitamins have zinc in them, which can upset your stomach if it is empty, so be sure to take supplements with food. A side benefit is that you will notice your hair starts to grow faster.


After a Sunburn, Always…

Two of the more essential things you can do after a sunburn to help turn the burn into a tan are to drink plenty of water and to moisturize your skin with a gentle lotion. This needs to be done for several days after the burn, not just the first 24 hours. 


During a week or two after a sunburn, be sure to stay hydrated with plenty of water, at least half your body weight in ounces, and slather on a hypoallergenic moisturizer at least twice a day. You need to maintain good circulation and moisture in your skin to speed the healing, prevent peeling, and help assist your body in producing melanin to edge it toward a tan as it heals from the burn.


Enjoy the Sun Safely

Getting a little sun exposure is suitable for Vitamin D levels, but bear in mind, tanning does increase your risk of skin cancer. A tan itself is essentially a sign of sun damage, as the melanin rushes in to protect the skin. If you decide to tan, take the proper precautions to tan safely. Make sure you go easy if you choose to tan and wear an SPF every single time. 


Don’t neglect your lips or often forgotten areas such as your ears when applying sunscreen. 


Stay hydrated, set a timer to avoid overdoing your sun exposure, and always moisturize after tanning. Burning your skin in the hopes of getting tan skyrockets your risk of skin cancer, so avoid sunburn at all costs. It’s better to go slowly and use a self-tanner in the interim than end up with a painful, peeling sunburn. Once you get a little tan, give a sunless tanner or gradual tanner a shot. 


These can help maintain both spray tans and natural tans and keep that bronzed look longer. Now grab your SPF, and don’t forget the sunglasses and a hat to give your skin a rest while in the sun!