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How Can I Treat a Tanning Bed Sunburn?

By Rhonda Rivera
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There is no cure for a tanning bed sunburn, but you can treat the burning sensation and dryness of the skin. Applying a moisturizer, drinking water to stay hydrated, and refraining from picking at the peeling skin helps. The type of moisturizing lotion you choose does not matter much as long as it is soothing to the skin rather than irritating. Hydration is a highly debated topic, but it is believed that being hydrated helps improve blood flow to your skin. In addition, do not pull off your skin when it starts to peel, because ripping it off before it is ready can lead to infections.

The heat of the tanning bed removes moisture from your skin until the skin burns from the lack of it. It helps to replace this moisture by applying lotions and avoiding harsh beauty products like exfoliaters. As topical treatments go, this is about all you can do. Only time can heal sunburns and, depending on the severity, it can take several weeks for your body to peel dead skin and regrow healthy skin. Give your sunburn a chance to heal before sunbathing again.

Staying hydrated might help return your skin to normal faster than being dehydrated. How much faster is not known, but some researchers believe the difference in recovery time is insignificant unless you are very dehydrated. Basically, drink water whenever you feel thirsty. Try to limit drinks like soda pop and beer that seem to quench thirst but are nowhere near as satisfying as water.

Your tanning bed sunburn will start to peel after about one week. As tempting as it may be, picking off scabs or dead skin is usually frowned upon by health professionals. There is often nothing wrong with taking off dead skin. The problem arises when the dead skin is still firmly attached to still-living skin, which gets pulled off too, or the skin underneath is still raw and new. Let the skin fall off naturally and, if some of it accidentally gets pulled off, apply an antibacterial ointment to prevent infections.

To prevent a tanning bed sunburn in the future, apply sunscreen before entering the bed. Stay in the bed for the shortest recommended time. Know that tanning beds damage your skin even when you are wearing sunscreen, just like the sun. If you wish to avoid the possibility of another tanning bed sunburn altogether, try self-tanning products in the form of creams. Many self-tanning products can give natural-looking results similar to tanning beds, especially when lightly applied over several sessions.

How Is a Tanning Bed Burn Different From a Sunburn?

A tanning bed sunburn is very similar to a regular sunburn; both are caused by exposure to UV light.

The skin will appear red and irritated, and you may experience swelling, itching, and pain. The main difference between the two types of burns is that a tanning bed sunburn can be more severe and cause more long-term damage.

Tanning bed sunburns can cause significantly worse burns because these beds emit highly concentrated UV light. The UV light from tanning beds is far more potent than the UV light from the sun and can cause much worse damage.

Additionally, tanning bed burns can be much more painful than sunburns because of the strength of the UV light. It is essential to be careful when using tanning beds and employ preventative measures to avoid getting burnt.

What Are the Health Concerns of Using a Tanning Bed?

Tanning beds can be great for improving your tan but using one comes with significant health concerns.

Common problems associated with tanning beds include:

According to several recent studies, most melanomas are caused by extended exposure to UV light. Melanoma is the deadliest of all skin cancers; therefore, using tanning beds is a significant health risk.

How To Tell if You Have a Tanning Bed Burn

If you have been in a tanning bed and your skin is red, itchy, or swollen, you may have a sunburn.

You may also experience nausea, vomiting, or fever if the burn is severe. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is vital to seek medical attention immediately.

How To Prevent Tanning Bed Burns

The best way to prevent tanning bed burns is to avoid using tanning beds altogether. However, if you do use a tanning bed, there are some things you can do to prevent getting burnt.

Use Sunscreen

Apply sunscreen prior to entering the tanning bed. Use at least SPF 15 sunscreen, and apply it evenly over your skin.

Wear Protective Clothing

Wear loose-fitting clothing that covers your skin while in the tanning bed. Clothing will help protect your skin from UV light.

Start Slowly

If you are new to tanning beds, start with short sessions and gradually increase the time you spend in the bed. Starting slowly will help your skin get used to the UV light and prevent burns.

How To Treat a Tanning Bed Burn

If you get a tanning bed sunburn, there are some things you can do to treat it.

Apply Cool Compresses

Applying cool compresses to your skin will help reduce swelling and pain.

Take a Cool Bath

Soaking in a cool bath can help relieve symptoms.

Use Over-the-Counter Treatments

You can use over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen to help reduce pain and inflammation.

Seek Medical Attention

If your sunburn is severe, you should seek medical attention. A severe sunburn can lead to dehydration and other serious health problems.

Preventing and treating a tanning bed sunburn is vital for maintaining your health. Be sure to use sunscreen and start slowly if you are new to tanning beds. 

How Long Do Tanning Bed Burns Last?

Tanning bed burns resemble regular sunburns and typically last a few days. However, the pain from a tanning bed burn can be much more severe. Additionally, tanning bed burns can lead to long-term damage, such as skin cancer. Therefore, taking measures to prevent and treat tanning bed burns is crucial.

Should I See a Doctor for a Tanning Bed Burn?

Tanning bed burns are similar to regular sunburns and usually go away on their own within a week or two. You may need to see a doctor for treatment if the burn is severe. Severe burns can lead to dehydration, so it is essential to drink plenty of fluids. You should also avoid using any products that contain alcohol, as this can dry out your skin and make the burn worse.

You should immediately visit a doctor if you start experiencing vomiting, fever, or nausea. If you have any questions or concerns about a tanning bed sunburn, speak with a doctor or dermatologist. A doctor will be able to provide you with the best advice on how to treat the burn and prevent future burns.

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Discussion Comments

By discographer — On Jul 07, 2013

My face got burned the very first time I used a tanning bed. I was so upset because my face was completely red. My grandmother told me to apply plain yogurt on my face like a mask several times a day. I did it and it made a huge difference! It also felt great!

By fify — On Jul 06, 2013

@ddljohn-- Wow, sorry to hear about that. Tanning bed burns are awful, I know. But hopefully you will get through this fast and without additional problems.

My advice is to go to the pharmacy and purchase a topical aloe vera gel with lidocaine. The lidocaine is important because it's a topical pain reliever. Regular aloe vera gel will help, but the one with lidocaine is going to work even better. It will hydrate and soothe your skin and it will take the pain away.

After the aloe vera gel, you can use natural moisturizers such as cocoa butter or shea butter to moisturize and protect your skin. You're probably going to be experiencing some major peeling in a few days, so the natural moisturizers will help with that.

If your pain gets worse though, you should see a doctor. It might be a second-degree burn which will leave scars. Professional help will be necessary in that case.

By ddljohn — On Jul 05, 2013

I fell asleep in my friend's tanning bed for two hours and I am badly burned. I couldn't sleep all of last night. I was basically groaning in pain. It's painful to wear clothes right now. I am so miserable. Please give me some suggestions for treating this fast!

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