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The Tanning Process

Sun Club Education

For three decades, the practice of tanning in the United States has increased in popularity. Everyone loves the healthy-looking, golden glow acquired from exposure to ultraviolet light; therefore, it is unlikely that tanning will ever become a passing fad.

With each year that passes, consumers become more educated about skincare and tanning and demand higher-quality products and services for their money. In order to keep up with their demands, salon owners and operators must understand the latest trends in equipment and products as well as have a firm grasp on the most-effective marketing and customer services practices. But above all, consumers and salon owners are jumping on the bandwagon of responsible and gradual tanning. By enforcing this at the salon level, we can keep our customers skin looking great with a healthy-looking tan.

The tanning process occurs in two phases. The color seen immediately after getting out of a tanning unit is due to immediate pigment darkening (IPD). IPD results from the rapid darkening of already existing melanin and is induced mainly by UVA. It is most obvious in skin where high levels of pigmentation already exist. IPD can fade within minutes or last up to several days after longer exposures and blend into the delayed tanning phase.

Tanning and Heredity

Melanin is the leading factor that determines a person’s skin color, and its presence is determined by heredity factors. This is based on the regions of the world from which a person’s ancestors came and is referred to as constitutional skin color. But not all skin color is based on constitutional skin color. Facultative skin color, referred to as tanning, is the result of deliberate exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Here, hormonal factors determine the shade of a tan one will develop.

Each skin type reacts in its own way to UV radiation. The reaction is dependent upon the amount of pigment already in the skin naturally, the capability to build up additional protection (facultative pigmentation) and the degree of thickening of the uppermost horny skin layer (acanthosis).

All of these factors are determined genetically. In the initial stage of tanning, the skin has what are called pre-pigment grains that appear gray-brown in color. The visible result of these grains is immediate tanning, seen in people who tan easily. However, this color can disappear very quickly, in as few as 24 hours. In the lowest layer of the outer skin, the melanocytes (melanin-producing cells) begin to generate new pigment grains called melanosomes. Because this is a slower process than the immediate tanning of pre-pigment grains, it is known as indirect pigmentation. With the presence of UVB, melanocytes are stimulated to divide, creating more pigment cells. During this time, the epidermis thickens to form additional protection, again a condition referred to as acanthosis.

The actual production of melanin occurs deep within the outer skin where melanocytes are situated. Melanocytes are capable of growing between the surrounding keratinocyte cells and forming offshoots called dendrites. It is at this point that melanocytes have the ability to be stimulated by UV rays to achieve their purpose of producing melanin. Eventually, the pigment grains change from their initial pink color to their final stage of reddish brown or a tan. The peak color that can be achieved is dependent upon an individual's tanning schedule and individual factors such as skin type, hormonal influences and recent UV history. Melanin can compensate for only so much UV light. It's not difficult to spot a tanner who has had too much UV exposure. Photo-induced inflammation, better known as sunburn, is the result of an overdose of UVB rays. Longer wave UVA produces a reddening of the skin only when sufficient photosensitizing effects are taking place, due to an excess dosage or a high concentration of photosensitizing substances, such as certain medications, perfumes or lotions. Sunburn resulting from too much UVB causes cell damage on only the top germ layer where cells eventually flake off. Sunburn from UVA, however, reaches deep into the connective tissues, permanently damaging the delicate elastic fibers of the skin.

Solar Ultraviolet Radiation

The solar radiation reaching the earth can be broken down into rays of varying wavelengths. The light that can be seen with the unaided eye is called the visible spectrum and is made up of rays between 400 and 780 nanometers (nm) in length. (A nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter.) Just more than 50 percent of light that reaches the earth's surface falls into this range. Most of the remainder is called infrared light, which are rays longer than 780 nm.

About one-twentieth of the sun's light that reaches the earth is of a shorter wavelength than the visible spectrum. It is this fractional amount, the ultraviolet light, which results in the phenomena known as sun tanning and sun burning. The ultraviolet radiation is further broken down into three types-UVA (320-400nm), UVB (280-320 nm) and UVC (100-280 nm).

Solar radiation in the UVC range is absorbed almost entirely by the carbon dioxide and ozone in the atmosphere. This is fortunate, considering that even short exposure to any quantity of UVC is very harmful to the eyes and causes severe sunburn.


Artificial Ultraviolet Radiation

The sun is not the only source that emits rays such as ultraviolet and infrared; lamps also are capable of emitting rays. Techniques have been discovered to permit lamps to radiate relatively more UV or IR (infrared radiation). These lamps are developed specifically for tanning and emit radiation with a spectrum in which the required ultraviolet is present in abundance. The desired type of radiation can be further achieved by using filters to eliminate the unwanted rays. The process of tanning depends upon the energy supplied in the form of UV radiation and the time during which it takes place. The amount of radiation energy administered is known as the dose.

Effective Dose And Action Spectrum

Radiation dose is the primary factor in determining how rapidly the skin will tan. However, several other factors also need to be considered. First, the type of skin to be radiated is important because tender, fair skin reacts very differently to radiation than does darkly pigmented skin. Wavelength is also an essential factor. As mentioned earlier, the skin reacts more dramatically to the short UVB rays than to the UVA which have a longer wavelength.

The objective of radiation equipment is to radiate skin with an irradiance level that is needed at a particular distance to achieve the biological effect known as tanning.

The Benefits of Indoor Tanning Lotions

Every day your clients battle the war to maintain healthy skincare. And as a tanning and skincare expert you are responsible for protecting and preserving your customers' skin by offering a selection of lotions to keep skin soft, supple and looking healthy.

No one can dispute the fact that the lotion and skincare segment of the tanning industry has experienced explosive growth in the last eight years. Both veteran and newcomer lotion and skincare manufacturers have recognized the market potential and expanded their product lines to provide tanners with a wide array of choices. From lotions and gels, to sprays and greaseless oils, today's tanners have a plethora of products to choose from.

Construction and Maintenance

Special filters are used to remove unwanted wavelengths of UVR, primarily UVB and shorter wavelengths of UVA (320-340 nm), leaving most of the longer wavelengths of UVA (340-400 nm) intact. This allows the high-pressure spectrum to produce a deeper, darker, longer-lasting tan.

Research supports the fact that high-pressure systems do provide a deeper, darker and longer-lasting tan when compared to low-pressure systems. This occurs because longer wavelengths of UVA penetrate deeper into the skin that do shorter wavelengths of UVA and UVB wavelengths and, therefore, are able to oxidize melanin granules farther away from the surface of the skin. These deeper oxidized granules take longer to reach surface of the skin and allow for a deeper tan with longer life. It must be mentioned that greater care should be exercised when tanning anyone who is most sensitive to UVR (that goes for high-pressure as well as low-pressure tanning). All tanners who frequent a tanning salon will have a pre-established level of sensitivity to UVR. Therefore, if they are overexposed to UVR, whether on a high-or low-pressure system, they will burn.

Manufacturers are taking design and engineering to the next level by offering stylish-looking equipment featuring the latest technological advancements. Keeping luxury in the forefront of the tanning experience, high-pressure units continue to offer comfortable and large tanning surfaces. Some units feature bells and whistles, including mattresses that feature massage options and aromatherapy, to provide tanners with a more enjoyable and relaxing session.

Today's equipment choices feature brightly colored, full body wraparound canopies, high-powered adjustable cooling fans, easy-to-replace snap-in lamps, digital bed controls positioned at eye level, and voice prompting. High-pressure manufactures are focusing on lamp placement and output on the UV spectrum rather than bombarding the tanner with increased wattage and heat. In addition to providing great tanning results, it reduces the amount of heat output, which in turn saves the salon in energy costs.

High-pressure equipment is available in traditional beds or standup versions, which offers myriad choices when it comes to planning space. Tanning salon owners are continuing to purchase high-pressure units so as to offer a more diverse mix of tanning options for their customers. A tanner in this type of mix often is encouraged to rotate between the high-pressure and low-pressure units in order t maintain a deeper, darker tan, as well as maintain optimal levels of vitamin D. Since little or no vitamin D is produced by wavelengths higher than 315 nanometers, high-pressure alone is not an effective system fro producing this important vitamin. This is one reason some salons have clients who alternate between high-pressure and low-pressure systems. Tanning in both systems gives the tanner the best benefits and features of both lamp types. As we get ready for the 2003 season, there is no doubt that high-pressure tanning will continue to grow because of its unique features and benefits. Salons that feature a mix of low-, medium- and high-pressure tanning will continue to benefit from customers upgrading for the added value of high-pressure tanning. The key is to properly educate customers on the benefits of high-pressure tanning and how it add s to their overall tanning experience.

Sun Club Education

Technical Aspects Of High-Pressure Tanning

High-pressure tanning systems utilize lamps filled with mercury vapor (under high pressure, hence the name) that can develop very high UVR intensity levels. Special blue glass filters are used to remove unwanted wavelengths of UVR, primarily UVB (280-320 nm) and UVA2 (320-340 nm), leaving most of the UVA1 (340-400 nm) wavelengths intact. Keep in mind that UVB at 305 nm has 1,000 to 1,200 times more sun burning power than does UVA1 at 365 nm. This is why high-pressure systems are much less likely to cause sunburn when compared to tube type tanning systems. However, that does not mean high-pressure systems cannot cause sunburn-they can and do if used unwisely. Obviously, great care must be exercised when tanning the most UVR sensitive individuals with both high-pressure and tube type tanning systems. It is generally accepted that a high-pressure tanning system can produce a deeper, darker and longer-lasting tan than tube type system. This is because the UVA1 wavelengths penetrates more deeply into the skin than do UVB and UVA2 wavelengths and, therefore, are able to oxidize melanin granules farther away from the surface of the skin. Since these oxidized granules will take longer to reach the surface of the skin, the tan produced by a high-pressure system will be deeper, darker and longer-lasting. Some anti-tanning individuals have stated that the fact that UVA1 wavelengths penetrate more deeply into the skin that there is the potential for collagen damage. First of all, there is no evidence to support this contention and it must be remembered that the wavelengths penetrating the deepest into the skin are the visible (400-700 nm) and the near-infrared (700-1,000 nm) and the infrared (1,000-4,000 nm). Therefore, if UVA1 wavelengths are harmful, then visible and infrared photons also must be harmful and, once again, there is no credible medical evidence to support his contention. Moreover, since recent research shows that there is enough UVB present in the typical high-pressure system to stimulate the production of both melanin and vitamin D, this fact will also stimulate the acceptance of high-pressure tanning systems by both tanning salon owners and clients alike.

Minimum Erythemal Dose And Minimum Melanogenic Dose MED is the Minimal Erythemal Dose and is defined as the threshold dose that may produce MMD, on the sunburn. MMD, on other hand, is the Minimal Melanogenic Dose and is equal to the lowest dose required to develop a visible suntan. Even though the terms MED and MMD seem to be self-explanatory at first glance, the translation of these values in the daily practice of indoor tanning often leads to misunderstandings of wrong interpretations, especially when it comes to determining exposure times based on MED and MMD values.

Determining Threshold Dosages Assume that unprotected skin has been exposed to UV radiation for the first time. In order to determine the MED, the reaction of the skin will be recorded 24 hours after exposure. The minimal dose that induces any visible skin reddening at that point of time is defined as one MED. Redness that occurs immediately after exposure and disappears during the following three to five hours is caused mainly heat and is not comparable with real UV erythema. This is the reason why the reading is not taken until 24 hours later.

For users of tanning units, the MED provides important information about the sunburning effect of the equipment, since an even perceptible reddening is the first sign of a sunburn reaction. In order to prevent possible acute or long-term risks due to indoor tanning, the MED should not be exceeded during a session. The MMD is determined in a very similar manner. In contrast to the MED examination, the readings are performed seven days after exposure instead of 24 hours. The minimal dose required to produce an even noticeable tan, which can still be observed seven days later, is defined as one MMD. The interval between exposure and reading is necessary to permit the occurrence of new melanin biosynthesis (melanogenesis), which only becomes evident after several days of UV application. To better understand MED and MMD, it should be said that both are individual values. The lowest effective dose developing a sunburn as well as the value producing a suntan depend distinctly on the skin sensitivity of the person. In order to eliminate these individually influencing factors, MED and MMD have been standardized. With standardized MED and standardized MMD values, sunlamp products can be characterized and specified and become comparable with respect to their biological capabilities. Such information based on these standard values are of higher ranking meaning than are statements about the physical data such as UVB/UVA ratio or UVB percentage. Comparing Standard MED And MMD. By comparing MED and MMD values of tanning units, it may be surprising that the required exposure time for reaching one MMD is usually longer than the corresponding time for reaching one MED. This seems to indicate that it is impossible to tan without first developing skin redness. At the same time, the question comes up: How can we achieve tanning slowly, progressively, and safely without producing sunburn? To shed some light on this question, consider the following:
MED and MMD are standardized values and valid for unprotected and untanned Skin Type II. This means that such given values are basically only valid before undergoing the first exposure. The effect on the skin of a melanogenic dosage will become evident only three to five days after exposure, at the earliest. Further, melanogenesis is a long-lasting process, therefore, consecutive single dosages work cumulatively. In other words, the skin does not forget the induced pigment effects and accumulates these single pigment-producing dosages over time. Besides melanogenesis, there exists the IPD, an immediate pigment darkening effect which is a rather superficially effective tanning mechanism. IPD is a transient reaction induced by the photochemical oxidation of preformed melanin pigments by long-wave UV, darkening the skin during exposure. By use of a tanning unit, for example, which is characterized by an exposure time of 20 minutes for one ME D and 45 minutes for one MMD, melanogenesis can be induced in two different ways.

MED/MMD-Based Schedule Consider the given MMD exposure time of 45 minutes. Although the applied melanogenic dose is high enough to produce new pigments, an exposure of this duration cannot be recommended because the MED would be exceeded more than twice during such a session. The better way to get a tan will be by starting an exposure schedule consisting of three applications of 15 minutes each during one week. The advantage of such procedure is twofold. The applied dose per session does not reach the limit of one MED, however, at the same time the skin has received a total melanogenic dose of one MMD. This means the process of new pigment formation will remain healthier. Furthermore, at the beginning of each tanning session series, this exposure schedule is in agreement with FDA regulations.


In addition to melanogenesis, even during the first exposure session the skin will be tanned immediately if the horny layer contains some weakly colored, pre-formed pigments which then can be darkened by IPD. Generally, human skin has some pigment prestages available (except Skin Type I). In this context, it may be helpful to know that with most of the commonly used sunlamps, the threshold dose to initiate IPD will be reached quicker than 1 MED.

Depending on the amount of available pigment pre-stages (and on Skin Types) the effect of IPD usually remains only for hours-at the most a few days. With an increasing number of sessions, the amount of pre-stage pigment will be enhanced. Talking about indoor tanning as well as outdoor tanning, the mechanisms of "immediate pigment darkening" and of "pigment formation" (melanogenesis) interact so that a clear differentiation between both is often impossible. As a rule, it can be established that IPD is more important during the first sessions while melanogenesis comes more and more into play during the following exposures. By using tanning units, both mechanisms are utilized. At the beginning, the tanning results are caused mainly by IPD. With increasing sessions the obtained suntan becomes darker and deeper due to further melanin synthesis. Further, with a well-tanned skin, the required exposure time to develop an erythema will be prolonged, and provide an effective sun protection.