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I have instructed indoor tanning certification courses for many years – some of you may have been in one of my classes. I love spreading the “good word” about controlled, moderate UV exposures offered at professional salons.
I typically start by asking the class to explain the tanning process or, “how do we obtain a tan?” As these classes start early in the morning, I’ve been met with several “deer in the headlights” looks as attendees contemplate just how to explain this. Some toss out “UVB this” and “UVA that” or something about the “tanning ray vs the burning ray.” One of the classic answers came after I pleaded, “Could someone, ANYONE please provide an answer?” After no one in the room dared give it a shot, one salon owner offered her own explanation. “How do we obtain a tan? Well Joe, we tan NAKED!” Well, there you have it. The explanation is really quite simple.
The skin consists of three distinct, thin and separate layers: the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous layers. The epidermis is the outer (top) layer. The dermis (corium) is the thickest – and a subcutaneous (deepest) layer of fatty tissue that acts as a “cushion” for underlying tissue and insulation from heat and cold.
When it comes to stimulating the melanocytes (tanning cells) in the dermis layer, UVB rays are the most efficient. Your skin can’t make more melanin, but the cells can be stimulated. In a tanning system fitted with low-pressure lamps, the key is to emit just enough UVB to stimulate melanocytes. Once stimulated, they begin to rise to the surface of the epidermis. UVA then oxidizes the rising melanocytes, changing their color from pink to brownish. NOTE: UVA and UVB rays emitted by a tanning lamp do not have sufficient energy to penetrate past the subcutaneous skin layer.
For years, an urban myth purported that a young girl “fried her internal organs” with five or six UV sessions in one day. Depending upon the version of the tale, she wanted to get a tan before her prom or a wedding. If it had any authenticity, an expose on this story would have certainly been covered in-depth by the media. The myth may have gained traction from the 2006 movie, “Final Destination 3” in which two young girls seek a sunbed tan and haphazardly place a drink on a ledge which begins to drip moisture, shorting out an electrical box that (somehow) rapidly increases the sunbed voltage and heat in the room. They (somehow) get locked in the sunbeds (okay). The voltage and heat continue to increase and (shocker) … “fry” their skin off! I’m sure many movie-goers were thinking, “I KNEW that could happen!” But I digress.
Perhaps the easiest way to explain the process is this: In a low-pressure tanning system, UVA and UVB are emitted in a precise combination. UVB stimulates melanocytes to migrate through the epidermis (top skin layer). Once stimulated, the melanin cells begin to rise to the skin’s surface where UVA oxidizes them and turns them brown. The result? A cosmetic tan.
This factual information also dispels the notion or myth purporting that a pregnant woman can “microwave” her unborn child during a sunbed session. Sunlamps emit ZERO microwave radiation. Wanna test this statement? Toss a piece of raw chicken on a sunbed, turn it on for a typical session time and let me know what happens!
When it comes to getting the facts about tanning, look to Sun is Life®!
A 26-year industry veteran, Joe has taught certified salon operator training for the last 15 years, as well as advocating indoor tanning in many capacities. Joe is a sought-after speaker and presenter at both national & regional trade events, also interacting with the FDA, state & local regulatory agencies. During his most recent tenure with the ITA, he served as director of membership.
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