how long does it take to tan?

How Long Does It Take to Tan? Summer Guide To A Perfect Tan

We all love that sun-kissed glow, but safely tanning is both an art and a science—so,  how long does it take to tan?

Did you know that fair-skinned folks can start tanning in just 20-40 minutes, while those with darker skin (more melanin) might need up to 2-3 hours?

From my own experience, knowing  how to tan without getting sunburned is key, but doing it safely is even more important.

Over the years, I’ve picked up a bunch of handy tips and tricks to avoid painful burns and get a beautiful, even tan. Check out our detailed guide to learn more about UV Index and safe tanning practices!

Article at a Glance:

Reasons You Need To Know How Long To Tan

Step-by-Step Guide to Tan Safely Without Getting Sunburn

Critical Considerations For Tanning Safely

How Long Does It Take To Get A Tan without Burning?

Before diving into the specifics, let’s clarify what tanning is. Tanning is how your skin darkens in response to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

When exposed to UV rays, your skin’s melanocytes produce melanin, the pigment responsible for skin colour, as a protective mechanism.

UVA radiation penetrates the lower layers of the skin, triggering melanocytes to produce melanin, which results in that coveted bronze hue.

The duration of a tan varies widely based on factors such as skin type, UV index, and sun exposure habits. 

For instance, those with fairer skin (Type I on the Fitzpatrick scale) might begin to tan within 1-2 hours, while darker skin tones (Type VI) may require more time under the sun to notice a change.

Reasons You Need to Know How Long To Tan

Reasons You Need to Know How Long To Tan

Understanding the optimal tanning duration is crucial for several reasons:

  • Prevent Skin Damage: Overexposure to UV rays can lead to sunburn, skin aging, and even skin cancers such as melanomabasal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Achieve an Even Tan: Knowing the right amount of time ensures you achieve a balanced tan without patches or streaks.
  • Maximize Efficiency: Avoid spending unnecessary hours under the sun by optimizing your tanning schedule.
  • Skin Type Considerations: Different skin types require different sun exposure times for safe tanning.
  • Sun Protection: To reduce the risks of skin and eye damage, it is essential to wear sun protection gear, such as hats and sunglasses with 100% UV protection, and apply sunscreen.

Mastering this skill means enjoying the sun responsibly and attaining a beautiful tan while safeguarding your skin’s health.

Step-by-Step Guide to Tan Safely Without Getting Sunburn

Tan Safely Without Getting Sunburn

Prep Your Canvas

Preparing your skin before you even step outside is crucial for a healthy tan and overall skin health.

Exfoliate gently to remove dead skin cells, ensuring an even tan and preventing clogged pores. Use a gentle scrub or exfoliating mitt, focusing on rough areas like elbows and knees.

Hydrate your skin with a quality moisturizer to prevent dryness and peeling, which can lead to an uneven tan.

Look for a moisturizer with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid or glycerin. Proper skin preparation and protection are crucial to achieving and maintaining a healthy, radiant complexion.

Exfoliating Mitt

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Understand Your UV Index

The UV index measures the strength of ultraviolet rays. Generally, a UV index between 3 and 7 is ideal for tanning. Here’s a more detailed guide for each skin type:

  • Type I (Very Fair Skin): Characterized by pale white skin that burns quickly and rarely tans. People with Type I skin should opt for a low UV index (3-4) and limit their tanning sessions to shorter periods of 15-30 minutes to avoid sunburn and skin damage. It’s essential to use high-SPF sunscreen and protective clothing.
  • Type II (Fair Skin): This skin type also burns quickly but can tan minimally. A moderate UV index (5-6) is suitable for this skin type, with tanning sessions of 30-45 minutes. Regular sunscreen application and occasional breaks in the shade are advised to prevent overexposure.
  • Type III (Medium Skin): Medium skin that sometimes burns but tans uniformly. Individuals with Type III skin can tan in moderate UV index ranges (5-6) for 45-60 minutes. While they have a lower risk of burning than fairer skin types, using sunscreen and staying hydrated is still important.
  • Type IV (Olive Skin): This is light brown or olive skin that tans easily and burns minimally. A higher UV index (6-7) is appropriate, with 60-75 minutes recommended tanning times. People with this skin type should still use sunscreen to protect against long-term skin damage and premature aging.
  • Type V (Brown Skin): Brown skin that tans easily and rarely burns. A higher UV index (6-7) for Type V skin with tanning sessions of 75-90 minutes is optimal. Sunscreen and moisturizers should be used to maintain skin health and prevent drying or damage.
  • Type VI (Dark Brown/Black Skin): This skin type has dark brown or black skin that rarely burns and tans very easily. It can handle a high UV index (7) and tanning sessions lasting 90-120 minutes. Despite the lower risk of sunburn, sunscreen is still recommended to safeguard against prolonged UV exposure effects like hyperpigmentation and skin aging.

Use Sunscreen and Tanning Oils

Use Sunscreen and Tanning Oils

Contrary to popular belief, you can still tan with sunscreen. A broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 protects against harmful UVA and UVB rays while allowing you to tan.

Natural tanning oils, like coconut oil and carrot seed oil, offer a natural SPF and can enhance your tan. Coconut oil has an SPF of about 4-8, while carrot seed oil provides an SPF rating. Watch out for the bogus claim that it has an SPF of between 38-40.

Studies such as “Natural Sunscreen Agents: A Review of Their Functions and Efficacy” have explored these oils’ protective properties. However, it’s important to remember that these natural oils provide much less protection than commercial sunscreens.

Hydrate and Rotate

Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated; it’s crucial for your overall health. Your skin, the body’s largest organ, needs hydration to maintain its elasticity and function effectively. Dehydration can lead to dry, flaky skin and exacerbate acne or eczema.

When tanning, it’s important to rotate your body frequently. This ensures an even tan and helps prevent overexposure to UV rays on any single part of your body.

Overexposure to UV rays can increase the risk of skin damage and skin cancer. Remember, tanning should be done gradually to avoid sunburn and long-term skin damage.

Aftercare is Key

Aloe Vera After Sun Gel

Once you’re out of the sun, apply a soothing after-sun moisturizer to help your skin recover. Aloe vera-based products are excellent for hydrating and repairing sun-exposed skin due to their anti-inflammatory and healing properties.

Cool showers are beneficial as they help prolong your tan by preventing the skin from shedding too quickly.

Additionally, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water aids in maintaining skin elasticity and health. Remember, a gentle exfoliator can help remove dead skin cells without stripping your tan, and a high-quality moisturizer daily can keep your skin nourished and supple.

Critical Considerations For Tanning Safely

When tanning, always be mindful of the risks of ultraviolet radiation, including sunburn, skin cancer, and premature aging.

Sun exposure can cause premature aging and increase the risk of skin cancer. Regularly applying sunscreen, even when not actively tanning, helps protect your skin year-round.

Also, sun protection such as hats and sunglasses with 100% UV protection can reduce risks of skin and eye damage.

Taking it to the Next Level: Enhancing Your Tan.

To further enhance your tan, incorporate foods rich in beta-carotene, like carrots, sweet potatoes, and mangoes, into your diet. These foods help your skin naturally protect against UV rays and maintain that golden glow longer.

You can also consider using high-quality tanning lotions that contain bronzing agents to boost your natural tan.

Alternatives to Natural Tanning to Reduce The Risk Of Skin Cancer

Only some people have the time or inclination to tan naturally. Here are some alternatives:

  • Self-Tanning Products: These come in lotions, sprays, and foams that mimic the appearance of a natural tan without UV exposure.
  • Spray Tans: Professional spray tans offer a quick and even tan lasting up to a week.
  • Not Tanning Beds: While effective, they come with similar risks as natural sun exposure and should be used cautiously.

Conclusion: Wrapping Up The Ultimate Tanning Guide

Achieving a beautiful tan and enhancing your skin tone doesn’t have to come at the expense of your skin’s health. By understanding how long it takes to tan and following safe tanning practices, you can enjoy the sun responsibly. 

Over the years, I’ve found that a balanced approach combining sunscreen, proper hydration, and post-sun care yields the best results. Remember, the goal is to enhance your skin’s natural beauty while protecting it from harm.

Oh! and make sure your sunscreen is natural! Check out our 39 reasons to swap to natural sunscreen…


How long should you tan outside safely?

To tan outside safely, follow these guidelines based on your skin type and the UV index. Generally, fair-skinned individuals (Type I) should limit their sun exposure to 15-30 minutes, while those with darker skin tones (Type VI) can safely tan for up to 120 minutes. Always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to protect against harmful UV rays.

Can you still tan with sunscreen on?

Yes, you can still tan with sunscreen on. Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 protects your skin from harmful UV radiation while allowing a gradual, even tan. Sunscreen helps prevent sunburn and long-term skin damage while enabling you to enjoy the sun safely.

What foods enhance tanning?

Foods rich in beta-carotene, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and mangoes, can enhance your tan. These foods contain carotenoids that may help your skin protect itself from UV rays and maintain a bronzed glow for longer. Including these in your diet supports overall skin health while promoting a natural tan.

What are some alternatives to traditional tanning?

Alternatives to traditional tanning include self-tanning products, spray tans, and tanning beds. Self-tanning lotions, sprays, and foams mimic the look of a natural tan without UV exposure. Professional spray tans provide an even finish lasting up to a week. Tanning beds can also provide quick results but should be used cautiously due to risks similar to natural sun exposure.

How can I maintain my tan longer?

To maintain your tan longer:

  1. Focus on hydration and skincare.
  2. Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated, and moisturize daily with aloe vera-based products to prevent peeling.
  3. Incorporate foods high in beta-carotene, like carrots and sweet potatoes, into your diet, and avoid long, hot showers that can dry out your skin.

What SPF should I use for tanning?

When tanning, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30. This provides ample protection against UVA and UVB rays while allowing you to develop a tan gradually. Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming or sweating to ensure continuous protection.

Mick Wadley

Mick Wadley – Founder of Skorcha

After a decade in the scorching sun as a roofer and going door-to-door in sales – I was forced to take my skin health seriously following a skin cancer scare before the age of 30.

So began my passion for suncare, which is both effective and natural. Crafted for adventure and endurance sports, Skorcha formulas are non-greasy, have no eye sting and absolutely no bullshit (100% Organic).

My goal is to share what I’ve learned about skin health and safe ingredients, inspiring happier, healthier lives through adventure, organic goodness and conservation!

Help us plant a mangrove tree with every Skorcha product sold to protect fragile marine ecosystems and support underprivileged communities around the world.

Statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Products sold on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Information provided by this website or this company is not a substitute for direct, individual medical treatment or advice. It is the responsibility of you and your healthcare providers to make all decisions regarding your health. Skorcha recommends that you consult with your healthcare providers regarding the diagnosis and treatment of any disease or condition.