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How to Start Tanning: 6 Easy Steps for Beginners

Written by Lexi Carlson
Medically Reviewed by Denise Christine Bries, MD
How to Start Tanning_ 6 Easy Steps for Beginners

Who doesn’t love glowing, golden skin?

Many people struggle to get a tan, but we promise it’s not rocket science. Whether you prefer tanning beds, outdoor tanning, or spray tans, we can teach you how to get a bronzed look today!

Not only do we present the steps to tanning your skin, but we also answer some of your questions about tanning and have a quick list of the best tanning tips too!

We cover considerations, risks, and benefits. Ready? Read on!

What You Need:

  • Eye protection gear
  • A bathing suit or bikini set
  • Sunscreen
  • Tanning lotion
  • A bottle of water

For Indoor Tanning:

  • Tanning bed

For Outdoor Tanning:

  • A blanket or folding chair

Sunless Tanning:

  • Spray tan
  • Bronzers or intensifiers

Start Tanning in Six Easy Steps!

Ready to get under the UV rays or tanning bulbs? Before you climb into a tanning bed, read these steps first.

We guide you through the entire process! Once you get to the salon or do it yourself, you know what should happen before, during, and after.

Step 1: Determine Your Skin Type

Step 1

Before anything else, you need to determine your SKIN TYPE using a tanning chart to achieve your tanning goals. Overall, there are five to six skin types (can vary per source), and each one is classified according to that type’s melanin amount.

  • If you have fair skin that quickly burns, you may have Type 1 skin. You might struggle to get the tan that you like without risking sunburn!
  • Type 2 skin is more forgiving. Tan develops slowly, but there’s still a risk of sunburn.
  • Type 3 skin is fair skin that can easily tan. You just have to make sure you don’t overdo it to avoid skin damage.
  • Type 4 skin can achieve a tan and not burn as quickly as others!
  • The same goes with Type 5 – this skin tone may already be naturally tan and not burn at all.
  • Type 6 can darken their skin tone, but they may already possess a natural black or brown color. If you have this type – and many do – you already have a lot of melanin in your skin. As a result, you won’t face sunburn that much!

After you’ve determined your skin type, you can plan ahead. For example, people with type one skin may need to slowly build their tan.

They need multiple tanning sessions, especially as a beginner. Then, they can start maintenance.

On the flip side, Type IV to Type VI skin might need fewer tanning sessions. So, if you’re going to set aside time and money for your tanning goals, you need to know your skin type.

Step 2: Determine How You Want to Tan

Step 2

You might have gotten this part already from the part above! You can do indoor or outdoor tanning.

  • For indoor tanning, you can either buy a tanning bed or book a session at a tanning salon.
  • Outdoor tanning simply involves the sun and a backyard where you can tan easily.

There are risks and benefits involved in both types of tanning.

Should I Go for a Tanning Bed?

A tanning bed is the MOST DANGEROUS option, but it can give you a quick, even tan – especially if you live in a colder area where there’s not much sun.

Your skin and preferred tanning method will work together. A tanning bed can give you quick tanning, and there are tanning bed levels that can minimize sunburn.

What About a Tanning Salon?

You can set aside some money for tanning salons or buy your own tanning bed.

On the other hand, being in an area wherein you’re often exposed to the sun can SAVE YOU MONEY! It’s also a lot safer for your face and body. Others may prefer to go all-natural with their tanning and forego the tanning bed option.

More Tips:

If you want to have complete protection from the UV rays, you can go for a sunless tanning session. There are also tanning salons that do spray tanning and airbrushing instead of putting you in tanning beds.

If you already have a tanned color, you can apply tanning lotions, bronzers, or intensifiers.

Step 3: Use Sunscreen and Sunglasses

Step 3

Ready to have a tanning session? Put on your bathing suit and get your protection. Whatever your preferred method is – tanning bed, under the sun, or sunless – YOU NEED TO HAVE PROTECTION.

Now, what kind of protection are we referring to? TWO THINGS:

  • You need to be moisturized before doing a tanning session under UV rays
  • And let’s not forget our handy-dandy sunscreen to protect you. Tanning lotion can help.

Others may prefer not to wear protection but TRUST US. This is necessary to save your skin!

Protective eyewear is a must. You don’t know all the types of damage you can do to your eyes! Bulbs are harsh, and so are the sun’s rays. Protective goggles and sunglasses are great to keep your eyes safe, too.

Don’t overexpose yourself to UV rays.

Simply put, DO NOT let your tanning session run too long. Tanning beds deal more damage than you think with concentrated rays, and the sun isn’t innocent.

PRO TIP: You can also use tanning oil to speed up the production of melanin in your body, helping you to protect yourself from harsh UV rays even further!

Step 4: Flip Yourself and Move Around to Get an Even Tan

Step 4

During your tanning session – whether on tanning beds or outside under the sun’s rays – you need to position yourself properly.

We get into tanning bed tips later on about this, but let’s run through this briefly.

After you apply your tanning bed lotion and set the timer for your session, make sure the UV rays REACH ALL of your skin. From the bottom of your thighs to under your arms, your tan needs to be even!

This is especially the case if you need a base tan first. Build up your base tan first if you’re one of those who have fairer skin than most.

Step 5: Keep Your Glow with Tanning Lotions and Bronzers

Step 5

Hop out of that chair or tanning bed!

Drink water and apply lotion. There’s a tanner, bronzer, or darkening tanning lotion you can use to keep your glow.

You might need to put on your bathing suit MULTIPLE TIMES A WEEK to build the color you want – and maintain it, too.

It’s not advisable to keep seeking a tanning service or hopping into a tanning bed every day. It gets expensive, and it has risks involved!

So keep a few of these reminders in mind:

  • Tanning lotions are here to help!
  • Don’t check on your color too much.
  • Focus on maintenance and keeping yourself healthy.
  • Apply a lot of sunscreens and eat hydrating food!

Step 6: Enjoy the Results!

Step 6

Once you’ve got the color you like down, enjoy the results! Don’t stress too much about maintenance. Wear those tank tops, crop tops, and shorts.

Your golden skin is there for all to see. Who says you have to wait for summer to be sun-kissed? With sunless and tanning bed options, you can enjoy a bronzed look anytime, ANYWHERE.

How Long Does It Take to Get Tan?

It all depends on your skin type. That’s why we set it up as the very first step!

  • For people with type 1 to type 3 skin, it can take a long time.
  • If you’re looking to darken type 4 to 6 skin, your already existing melanin will make it easier!

The weather is fickle, so you might have more luck with a tanning bed or sunless options.

You might have to visit a tanning salon for several weeks up to three months.

Plus, if you have sensitive skin, then you might want to be gentle with your skin at first and choose the best time to tan.

In terms of the actual sessions, people of whatever skin type shouldn’t spend TOO LONG in their tanning beds. Even if you have SPF protection on, overdoing it can lead to UV damage!

Believe it or not, a lot can be done for people with just a few minutes of tanning:

  1. Start with short sessions
  2. Then gradually increase your tanning time as you get more used to it.
  3. Use tanning bed lotion and follow our tanning bed tips below.

How Many Sessions Should You Start With?

Go for two sessions a week at first. You can try this out for a month, then see IF you can tolerate up to three times a week to get to your tanning goal faster.

Under the sun, it’s best to do your tanning session WITHIN 2 HOURS. Chug water down after, apply lotion, and take care of your skin!

Sunless options outdo the time a tanning bed and outdoor tanning can take. Spraying won’t take too long, and tanning lotions are always there for us to apply.

What Level of Tanning Bed is Ideal?

What Level

There are different tanning beds classified according to their levels.

These levels determine tanning power. Higher levels mean higher UVA rays and UVB rays! For many people, HIGHER LEVELS in their tanning bed mean A QUICKER TAN.

When you choose a high-level tanning bed, the effects also last longer. However, you have to be sure about deciding to go for this type of tanning bed!

It may not be the most economical option, and you don’t want to step out of the tanning bed darker than you initially set out to be.

  • If you’re tanning for the first time, get a tanning bed at the first or second level. Once you have the base down or feel comfortable doing something darker, go for the higher levels.

FAST FACT: Tanning beds usually end at around Level 4, but there are levels up to 5 and 6 that you can always avail of. These tanning beds give you a quicker, darker tan with minimal risk!

  • If you want to get that golden look right away, a high-level tanning bed is for you.
  • If you just need a little color for vacation, a low-level tanning bed can do. Lotions work well, too!

How Do You Tan for the First Time?

Whether you’re a gal or a guy looking to tan, the first time can be confusing. Even if you’ve done outdoor tanning before, the first time you use a tanning bed can also be confusing!

Well lucky for you, you’re already on the right page.

You have to be well-informed about possible risks that can outweigh the benefits. You need to know what some necessities are, like lotions, sunscreen, and eye protection gear.

Just follow our steps above and read through possible considerations below. We have tanning bed tips, too!

If you’re not too keen on using tanning beds, you can always opt for other types of tanning options. It’s best to stick to an option that is specialized for different skin types.

What to Consider Before Tanning: Tanning Bed Tips

What to Consider

There are tanning bed tips and considerations people have to consider. UV rays can deal a lot of damage, there are ways we have to face a tanning bed, and they all affect your results!

Consider these tanning bed tips below:

#1 There are Risks with Tanning Beds

A tanning bed is one of the most valuable investments to get that bronzed skin quickly. As long as you have the budget, you can get one installed in your home!

However, you have to be careful with a tanning bed. That tanning bed can get addictive, and that’s never good! Too much UV rays and UV light exposure leads to the following possible health damages according to the FDA:

  • Sunburn
  • Skin cancer
  • Premature aging
  • Eye damage (cataracts and blindness)
  • Solar keratoses, a type of growth that can lead to cancer

A safe tan is possible, but you’re risking yourself every time you increase melanin. Take every precaution. Don’t forget tanning goggles, tanning bed lotion, or sunscreen!

#2 Skin Care is a Must for Everyone

Skin care is a must BEFORE and AFTER you do the tanning process — whether you use tanning beds or not. We recommend you already have a skincare routine in place to better protect your skin!

The simple three-step process all skincare routines have is what you need to do before tanning, anyway:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Exfoliate
  3. Moisturize

Don’t forget to apply some lip balm and lotion!

Both your lip balms and lotions should contain SPF. Tanning lotion is ideal!

After a tanning session, you have to hydrate and moisturize yourself. Drink a lot of water and pick out a good lotion and sunscreen for your skin!

Some Reminders:

  • If you want to keep that bronzed glow, you may have to go to tanning salons multiple times a week for maintenance.
  • If you’re going to increase your tan, multiple tanning sessions are a must, too. Lotions can help improve the glow and make it last longer. However, we don’t recommend going every day – unless you want to risk skin damage. Let your tan settle into your skin for 36 to 48 hours. Increase your tan, then.
  • You can go to the tanning salon or jump back into the tanning bed for maintenance 1-2 times a week.
  • Bronzing and tanning lotions are always available to extend your glow without the risk of getting skin cancer.

#3 Positioning is Crucial

You can just go into a tanning bed and lay around, right? Nope.

You can probably still get a tan through a window, right? Not really.

There’s MORE to your tanning bed than that. If you don’t position your body correctly, you risk light patches, uneven tanning, and wrinkles.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind when using tanning beds:

  • Move around now and then to make sure you’re getting an even tan.
  • Don’t shrink into your body.
  • Keep your limbs slightly spaced out – your legs away from each other, and your arms spread a little from your sides. Raise them up. You want every patch of skin possible tanned!
  • Flip around and bend your knees a bit. Raise your arms again and wait for the session to end.

IF DONE RIGHT, your tan will be even all over your body! Hop off, apply lotion, and schedule your next session.

#4 Keep Your Tanning Bed Clean

Investing in tanning beds can minimize all that tanning salon expense, but you also have to take good care of it. Bacteria loooove to live in warm, humid environments.

While tanning beds may look squeaky clean, that usually isn’t the case when you look into it! You’re leaving human bacteria, dead skin, and remnants of tanning lotion and sunscreen in there.

Spray the tanning bed area with disinfectant after every use. Let it stay for a few minutes before wiping it down. Vacuuming works excellent as well.

Just make sure you’ve unplugged your tanning beds correctly before cleaning them! For deep cleaning, you can remove the tanning bulbs, too. You don’t want to shock yourself!

#5 There are Benefits to Tanning

Tanning isn’t just a vain practice!

While people usually tan for aesthetic purposes, tanning can help certain skin conditions, like psoriasis and eczema.

Some doctors don’t recommend it and recommend medicated lotion, but research still backs tanning up.

UV exposure can reduce inflammation and mitigate characteristics of psoriasis and eczema.

However, you may want to forego tanning beds and go tan in your backyard. Natural light therapy can help – WITHOUT the worry of damaging your skin cells.

And, of course, we can’t dispute the Vitamin D boost. Let’s add the extra layer of confidence tanning can give to these benefits, too!



Tanning is a sought-after procedure because of the radiant, glowing skin you come off with! However, many fear the effect of UV rays. We’re on the same page!

We hope we gave you enough tanning recommendations and tanning bed tips!

Just keep in mind that a tanning bed may not be the safest choice. It’s best to stick to indoor tanning and spray tanning.

Having issues with your other body parts? Read through our article to learn all about why your legs aren’t tanning!