How Can I Treat a Tanning Bed Sunburn?

Rhonda Rivera

There is no cure for a tanning bed sunburn, but you can treat the burning sensation and dryness of the skin. Applying a moisturizer, drinking water to stay hydrated, and refraining from picking at the peeling skin helps. The type of moisturizing lotion you choose does not matter much as long as it is soothing to the skin rather than irritating. Hydration is a highly debated topic, but it is believed that being hydrated helps improve blood flow to your skin. In addition, do not pull off your skin when it starts to peel, because ripping it off before it is ready can lead to infections.

Drinking water might help skin recover from a tanning bed sunburn.
Drinking water might help skin recover from a tanning bed sunburn.

The heat of the tanning bed removes moisture from your skin until the skin burns from the lack of it. It helps to replace this moisture by applying lotions and avoiding harsh beauty products like exfoliaters. As topical treatments go, this is about all you can do. Only time can heal sunburns and, depending on the severity, it can take several weeks for your body to peel dead skin and regrow healthy skin. Give your sunburn a chance to heal before sunbathing again.

Aloe vera cream, which can help with a sunburn.
Aloe vera cream, which can help with a sunburn.

Staying hydrated might help return your skin to normal faster than being dehydrated. How much faster is not known, but some researchers believe the difference in recovery time is insignificant unless you are very dehydrated. Basically, drink water whenever you feel thirsty. Try to limit drinks like soda pop and beer that seem to quench thirst but are nowhere near as satisfying as water.

A tanning bed.
A tanning bed.

Your tanning bed sunburn will start to peel after about one week. As tempting as it may be, picking off scabs or dead skin is usually frowned upon by health professionals. There is often nothing wrong with taking off dead skin. The problem arises when the dead skin is still firmly attached to still-living skin, which gets pulled off too, or the skin underneath is still raw and new. Let the skin fall off naturally and, if some of it accidentally gets pulled off, apply an antibacterial ointment to prevent infections.

To prevent a tanning bed sunburn in the future, apply sunscreen before entering the bed. Stay in the bed for the shortest recommended time. Know that tanning beds damage your skin even when you are wearing sunscreen, just like the sun. If you wish to avoid the possibility of another tanning bed sunburn altogether, try self-tanning products in the form of creams. Many self-tanning products can give natural-looking results similar to tanning beds, especially when lightly applied over several sessions.

Tanning bed sunburns are caused by lying in a tanning bed for longer than the recommended time.
Tanning bed sunburns are caused by lying in a tanning bed for longer than the recommended time.

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Discussion Comments


My face got burned the very first time I used a tanning bed. I was so upset because my face was completely red. My grandmother told me to apply plain yogurt on my face like a mask several times a day. I did it and it made a huge difference! It also felt great!


@ddljohn-- Wow, sorry to hear about that. Tanning bed burns are awful, I know. But hopefully you will get through this fast and without additional problems.

My advice is to go to the pharmacy and purchase a topical aloe vera gel with lidocaine. The lidocaine is important because it's a topical pain reliever. Regular aloe vera gel will help, but the one with lidocaine is going to work even better. It will hydrate and soothe your skin and it will take the pain away.

After the aloe vera gel, you can use natural moisturizers such as cocoa butter or shea butter to moisturize and protect your skin. You're probably going to be experiencing some major peeling in a few days, so the natural moisturizers will help with that.

If your pain gets worse though, you should see a doctor. It might be a second-degree burn which will leave scars. Professional help will be necessary in that case.


I fell asleep in my friend's tanning bed for two hours and I am badly burned. I couldn't sleep all of last night. I was basically groaning in pain. It's painful to wear clothes right now. I am so miserable. Please give me some suggestions for treating this fast!

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