Section One- What Causes Tanning Of The Skin?

In simplest terms, tanning is darkening of the skin through exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. When UV radiation hits your skin your body senses that it is being injured, so it tries to protect itself by producing chemical changes within certain skin cells. Your skin begins to darken in an attempt to block out harmful rays and prevent  further injury. Deeper tan color is produced by darkening of existing pigment and by a limited increase in pigment formation.

The skin cells that produce this pigment are called melanocytes. The pigment that is produced is called melanin. These melanocyte cells reside deep in the outer layer of the skin (dermis) and also account for the skin’s natural coloration. Light-skinned people have fewer melanocyte cells. Dark-skinned people have more melanocyte cells. An individual does not have the ability to increase the number of melanocyte cells contained in his or her skin. However, of those melanocyte cells present, a limited increase in melanin production can be achieved through increased exposure to UV light.

Although melanin production can be increased through increased exposure to UV light, only a limited amount is produced during each exposure. In other words, melanin production simply stops after a limited period of time during any giving exposure period. This period of time is dependent on the individual’s skin type. Continuous exposure to UV light will not continue to produce more melanin. This type of exposure will only result in erythema (sunburn) and excessive damage to the skin. The skin must be allowed to “rest” between exposures so that the melanocytes have time to produce additional melanin before being re-excited.

These principles of UV light exposure and darkening of the skin apply both outdoors in natural sunlight and indoors with tanning beds. This being the case, how then can the tanning operator maximize a customer’s tan during each session while minimizing skin damage?

1. Based on your customer’s skin type, have him or her tan only the amount of time required to “turn on” the melanocyte, and
2.  Allow the melanocytes to make all the pigment they are going to make before re-exciting them. (Law requires a minimum of 24 hours; 48 hours is recommended.)
In other words, schedule more on-going sessions with a gradual increase in tanning time until the maximum time is obtained (20 minutes in all cases).