What Is a UVB Tanning Bed?

Amanda Livingstone

A UVB tanning bed is an indoor device that emits 93 percent ultraviolet A (UVA) and 7 percent ultraviolet B (UVB) light and is used to darken skin. These kinds of tanning beds use short wave ultraviolet (UV) light emitted from either fluorescent or incandescent bulbs, producing a tan closer to what natural sun bathing might produce. Due to the UVB's short wavelength, the amount of time needed to produce a tan is considerably longer than with a UVA tanning bed.

UVB tanning beds darken the skin by exposing it to artificially created UVB rays.
UVB tanning beds darken the skin by exposing it to artificially created UVB rays.

Tanning beds work by artificially reproducing UVA and UVB light rays. When the pigment causing cells of the body are exposed to natural sunlight or UVB rays from tanning beds, the body’s response is to protect the skin by increasing production of melanin. Both UVA and UVB tanning beds cause the body’s skin to darken, or tan. While a UVB tanning bed is powerful, reaching the desired tan pigmentation will take longer due to the shorter exposure time per session. Tanning involving a UVB device should be limited to 20 minute sessions over seven to ten sessions to minimize the possibility of sunburn and skin damage.

A UVB tanning bed.
A UVB tanning bed.

UVB beds can be found in tanning salons or purchased for home use. Typically at-home tanning beds are smaller and usually lower powered than professional tanning beds. Despite the longer time it takes to achieve the desired tan, an at-home UVB bed is considered to be a more popular choice compared to UVA beds, generally due to price and the natural-looking results. Typically UVA beds are far more expensive than UVB beds, as a result of containing premium quartz lamps, filters and reflector systems.

Precautions such as wearing proper eye protection and using skin lotion protectant should be taken into consideration when using a UVB tanning bed. Eye goggles can protect the eye’s cornea and retina from developing cataracts, a serious eye condition. Frequent and prolonged exposure to UVB light can be harmful, increasing the risk of sunburn, skin damage and even skin cancer. Skin damage can present in the form of wrinkles, sun spots and dry skin. After chronic exposure to UVB light, skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma can develop.

The use of a skin protectant such as sunscreen or a tanning lotion with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 is recommended. The level of SPF will largely depend on the skin type and overall sensitivity to UVB rays. Lotions that contain dibenzoylmethanes offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays when using a UVB tanning bed.

A lightly tanned woman.
A lightly tanned woman.

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