What Is a UVA Tanning Bed?

Donna Tinus

UVA tanning beds offer users a method of acquiring and maintaining a year-round tan in a shorter amount of time than exposing the skin to the sun. Tanning beds create an artificial source of ultraviolet light, and in the case of a UVA tanning bed, the ultraviolet light is ultraviolet-A (UVA) light. The user lies in the bed, and lights are directed toward the user for short periods of time, generally between five and 15 minutes. The ultraviolet-A light penetrates the five layers of the epidermis (skin). The light activates the skin to produce melanocytes, which product melanin, a brown pigment that creates a tan.

A UVA tanning bed.
A UVA tanning bed.

Different types of lights are used by tanning beds. Some beds use the ultraviolet-A, the ultraviolet-B, or a combination of both. Each type of ultraviolet light has different effects on a person's skin.

One session in a UVA tanning bed can last between five to 15 minutes.
One session in a UVA tanning bed can last between five to 15 minutes.

The UVA tanning bed uses the UVA wavelength, which penetrates deep into the lowers layers of the skin, going down five layers. The UVB rays are shorter and only penetrate the outer layers of epidermis. UVB rays can cause sunburn if the user overexposes his skin to the light. Both UVA and UVB light are associated with skin cancer, and the UVA light reduces the skin's elasticity, causing premature aging, fine lines, and wrinkles.

Many dermatologists believe using UVB and UVA tanning beds can cause skin cancer. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control believe they are health hazards and ask people to avoid using them. Some people in the medical community around the world propose banning tanning bed use for recreational purposes.

Because tanning beds can cause damage to the eyes, such as corneal infections or conjunctivitis, the user must always wear goggles as a precaution. The user must start with a small amount of exposure, around five minutes, then gradually add a minute or two each time he enters the UVB or UVA tanning bed. A sunscreen should be applied before using a UVA tanning bed to prevent over exposure to the harmful ultraviolet rays, and avoid sunburn.

Some people have a tendency to over tan. One study suggests that indoor tanning in a UVB or UVA tanning bed can be addictive. It can lead to addiction when the tanning bed is being used as a coping mechanism for managing stress and improving mood.

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