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How Long Does It Take to Get a Tan? A Guide to Quick and Safe Tanning

As the mercury rises and summer approaches, many people start fantasizing about sun-kissed skin and that coveted, healthy glow that comes with a good tan. But how long does it take to get a tan? And is there a way to speed up the process without compromising the skin’s health?

This definitive guide will delve into the science of tanning, explore safe and effective strategies for achieving that sun-bronzed look, and debunk some common myths about tanning. Whether you’re a seasoned sun-worshipper or a cautious first-timer, read on to unlock the secrets of quick and safe tanning!

How Long Does It Take to Get a Tan?

Various factors, including skin type and UV intensity, can influence the time it takes to tan. On average, it takes about 1-2 hours of sun exposure for melanin, the pigment responsible for skin color, to be produced and moved to the skin’s surface, causing a noticeable tan.

If you’re trying to get a tan, you should also understand the science behind it. When your skin is exposed to UV radiation, it triggers the skin cells to produce and release melanin as a means of protection. This melanin absorbs and dissipates the UV radiation, which causes the skin to darken and results in what people perceive as a tan.

However, it’s crucial to remember that a tan, while often associated with health and vitality, can be a sign of skin damage. The skin darkens as a defensive response to harmful UV radiation, which can lead to premature aging, sunspots, and even skin cancer if not appropriately managed. Therefore, it’s crucial to approach tanning cautiously and always prioritize skin health.

Does Skin Tone Affect Tanning Time?

Skin tone absolutely significantly impacts tanning time. The skin’s natural color is dictated by the type and amount of melanin present, which varies widely among individuals and is largely determined by genetics. People with darker skin generally have more melanin, which means they tan more quickly than those with lighter skin.

Those with fair skin, or Type I on the Fitzpatrick Skin Type scale, are most prone to burning and may take longer to tan. They possess less melanin, and their skin tends to produce more pheomelanin, which doesn’t darken the skin as effectively.

On the contrary, individuals with dark skin, or Type VI on the Fitzpatrick scale, possess more eumelanin, a form of melanin that provides better protection against UV radiation and enables the skin to tan more readily.

Remember that no matter your skin type, overexposure to UV radiation can be harmful. Each skin type requires a different tanning approach, and it’s essential to use appropriate sun protection methods to minimize skin damage. Despite darker skin types having a lower risk of sunburn, they are not immune to skin cancers and the effects of UV damage. Therefore, sun safety is crucial for all skin types.

How Long Does It Take to Tan Safely?

Tanning safely is a delicate balance that largely depends on your skin type, the strength of the UV radiation, and the duration of sun exposure. Limiting sun exposure to less than 2 hours a day is generally recommended to tan safely, ideally in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun’s rays are less intense. This ensures you get the benefits of sun exposure, such as vitamin D production, without overexposing your skin to harmful UV radiation. Applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is crucial, regardless of skin type. Reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating to ensure continuous protection.

The intensity of UV radiation fluctuates throughout the day, reaching its peak between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Thus, tanning during these hours poses a higher risk of skin damage, even if the duration is short. It’s also important to remember that UV radiation can reach you on cloudy and cool days and through windows, so sun protection should be a daily habit.

Moreover, artificial tanning methods like tanning beds and sun lamps should be avoided as they emit UVA and UVB rays known to cause severe skin damage, including skin cancer. Evidently, there’s no such thing as a completely safe tan. However, understanding the risks and taking appropriate precautions can help minimize potential skin damage while still enjoying a sun-kissed glow. Keep in mind that the health and safety of your skin should always take precedence over aesthetic appeal.

Alternatives to Sun Tanning

If you’re still concerned about the risks of tanning, there are some alternatives that can provide a similar effect without the harmful UV radiation. Here are some options to consider:

Self-tanning Lotions or Sprays

Self-tanning lotions and sprays are popular alternatives to sun tanning, offering a safer way to achieve a bronzed glow without exposing your skin to harmful UV radiation. These products contain a chemical called dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which interacts with the dead cells on the skin surface to darken the skin, mimicking a tan temporarily.

The tan’s intensity depends on the DHA concentration in the product. Higher concentrations will result in a darker tan. The tan typically lasts for several days and fades as the dead skin cells are naturally exfoliated.

To use self-tanners effectively, it’s important to exfoliate the skin first, which removes dead skin cells and provides a smoother canvas for the product. Then, apply the tanner evenly, taking extra care around hard-to-tan areas like the knees, elbows, and ankles. Wash your hands immediately after to avoid orange palms.

While self-tanners provide a cosmetic tan, they do not offer any protection against the sun’s UV radiation. Therefore, you still need to apply sunscreen when going outdoors. In addition, various self-tanners can vary in quality and results. It’s best to test a small area first to make sure you like the color and to check for any possible skin reactions.


Like self-tanners, bronzers offer a temporary tan without exposing the skin to UV radiation. They are available in different forms, including powder, cream, and liquid. These products contain pigments that can be applied directly on the skin for an instant tan effect. Bronzers wash off easily with soap and water, making them perfect for special occasions or if you want a temporary tan. They can be reapplied as needed to maintain the desired shade.

Bronzers also do not offer any sun protection, so always remember to apply sunscreen when using them. Moreover, like self-tanners, bronzers can vary in quality and results, so testing a small area is recommended first.

Spray Tans

Spray tans are another popular option for achieving a tan without the harmful effects of UV radiation. This method involves spraying a mist of tanning solution onto the skin, which then interacts with the dead cells to temporarily darken the skin. Spray tans typically last several days and gradually fade as dead skin cells are naturally exfoliated.

Spray tanning can be done at professional spas or at home using DIY kits. However, it’s important to note that spray tans still contain DHA, which can potentially cause skin reactions in some individuals. It’s always best to test a small area first and follow the instructions carefully.

Tanning Beds

Tanning beds, also known as sunbeds, emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation to stimulate a tan. They function by emitting a combination of UVA and UVB rays, which mimic the sun’s natural radiation, triggering melanin production in the skin.

Tanning beds are often housed in tanning salons, gyms, and spas, where users lie down on a bench inside the bed, enclosed by a canopy containing UV lamps. During a session that lasts 5 to 30 minutes, the skin is exposed to UV radiation to induce tanning.

Tanning beds can provide a quick and even tanning, benefiting individuals who find it difficult to tan naturally or those who want to maintain a tan throughout the year. However, it’s important to note the health risks associated with this tanning method.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified tanning beds as ‘carcinogenic to humans’, placing them in the highest cancer risk category. This is due to the intense UV radiation they emit, which can lead to premature skin aging, sunburn, and increased risk of skin cancers, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Studies have shown that using a tanning bed before the age of 35 can increase the risk of melanoma by 75%.

When using a tanning bed, wearing protective eyewear to protect the eyes from UV damage, which can lead to cataracts or eye cancers, is recommended. Additionally, the skin should be thoroughly cleansed to remove any makeup, perfume, or lotions, as these can react with UV rays and cause skin irritation.

Finally, it’s essential to remember that tanning beds do not provide a safe alternative to sunbathing. Just like natural sun exposure, they expose the skin to harmful UV radiation, which can lead to skin damage and health issues over time. As such, they should be used sparingly, cautiously, and always in conjunction with protective measures.

How to Maintain and Extend Your Tan

Maintaining and extending your tan’s life, whether achieved through sun exposure or alternatives like self-tanner, involves a few key strategies.

Hydrate and Moisturize

Skin hydration plays a pivotal role in prolonging a tan. Regularly drinking water nourishes your skin from within, keeping it plump, smooth, and glowing. Applying a good quality moisturizer daily helps to lock in hydration, preventing the skin from drying out and flaking, which can cause your tan to fade more quickly. Ingredients such as aloe vera, cocoa butter, or coconut oil are known for their hydrating properties and can help maintain the health and glow of tanned skin.

Regular Exfoliation

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, which can lead to a dull complexion and uneven fading of your tan. Regularly exfoliating (ideally before tanning) promotes even skin tone and helps maintain the longevity of your tan. However, be careful not to over-exfoliate, as it can strip your tan and leave your skin feeling raw and sensitive.

Use of Tan Extenders

Tan extenders are products specifically designed to prolong the life of your tan. They often contain a small amount of DHA that can rejuvenate your tan and keep it looking fresh. These products also usually contain moisturizing ingredients to help keep your skin hydrated.

Avoid Hot Showers and Baths

Hot water can dry out your skin and cause your tan to fade quicker. Opt for lukewarm water instead, and avoid spending a long time in the water. Pat your skin dry with a towel instead of rubbing, as the latter can lead to uneven fading.

Wear Sunscreen

Even though your skin is tanned, it’s still susceptible to the harmful effects of UV radiation. Continue to apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 when spending time outdoors. Not only will this protect your skin, but it can also help maintain your tan.

Healthy Lifestyle

Lastly, a healthy lifestyle contributes to maintaining and extending your tan. Consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly those high in beta-carotene (such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach), can help improve your skin’s health and extend the life of your tan. Regular exercise can also enhance your tan by improving blood circulation and promoting healthy skin.


The time it takes to get a tan can vary depending on various factors, such as skin type and UV intensity. It’s important to understand the science behind tanning and prioritize skin health by practicing safe tanning methods. If you’re concerned about the risks of sun exposure, alternatives can provide a similar effect without exposing your skin to harmful UV radiation.

Maintaining and extending your tan involves proper skin care, hydration, and a healthy lifestyle. Always remember to prioritize sun safety and protect your skin from the damaging effects of UV radiation. With these tips, you can achieve that beautiful sun-kissed glow while keeping your skin healthy and radiant!


How long does it take to get tan after being in the sun?

The time it takes to get a tan can vary depending on various factors, such as skin type and UV intensity. But generally, it can take anywhere from 2-7 days for your skin to develop a tan after sun exposure fully.

How can I tan faster in the sun?

Using sunscreen with a low SPF, exfoliating before sun exposure, and avoiding hot showers after tanning may help. However, tanning faster in the sun may increase your risk of skin damage, so it’s crucial to approach tanning cautiously.

Can you still tan in the shade?

You can still get a tan while in the shade, but it will likely be less intense and take longer to develop than direct sun exposure. Remember, UV radiation can still reach you through clouds and windows, so practicing sun safety is important.

Does SPF stop you from tanning?

SPF does not stop you from tanning completely. It helps protect your skin from harmful UV radiation and can potentially slow down the tanning process. However, with prolonged sun exposure, getting a tan is still possible even while wearing sunscreen.

How do you tan and not burn?

Tanning without burning requires a balance of limiting sun exposure, using appropriate SPF sunscreen, and avoiding the peak hours of UV radiation. It’s also essential to understand your skin type and take proper precautions accordingly.

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