The Best UV Index For Tanning

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Many of us feel the need to have that luscious light on our skin. Tanning has many well-known drawbacks like cancer, but there are real benefits to tanning, too. Understanding how to tan outside is important. And one of the biggest factors to wrap your head around is the UV Index.

Tanning is a result of your skin’s reaction to UV light. But how much UV light is needed to achieve a tan and avoid sunburn? For that, you have to know the best UV index for tanning.

That level can vary from one person to another due to a variety of factors. Let’s help you figure out the best UV index for tanning your skin by telling you more about what the UV Index is, and by describing each of the levels.


What Is The UV Index?

UV Index Source:

The UV index is a measurement of the UV radiation intensity at a given time in a given place. It was created in the 1990s by Canadian scientists. 

It is made of different levels and is quite helpful in knowing how to protect your skin from the sun depending on how harsh the UV rays are. 

They range from UV index 0 to 11+. They can be classified as low, moderate, high, very high, and extreme. 

UV Index 0

This is the lowest level and is the UV index level at night. You don’t need to wear any sun protection even if you go outside because there isn’t any UV from the sun because it’s on the other side of the earth. 

UV Index 1-2

This is classified as low level. This is typically the UV index when there is a cloudy day or a winter day. 

Although the UV rays are at a low level, you can still get sunburned. But it will take time, and various other factors like location and time of day come into play.

It is recommended to use sunscreen with an SPF 30+ and to use sunglasses to shield the eyes from the radiation. 

UV Index 3 -5

At this level, you are already at moderate exposure to UV rays. Due to this, you’ll burn much faster as compared to the low levels. Typically, it takes about 45 minutes of exposure for you to have a sunburn. 

This is the UV index that is typical of a partly cloudy spring or autumn day. As protection, it is recommended to wear sunscreen with SPF 30+ and reapply it after a couple of hours. 

Other protection like wearing sunglasses, a hat, or finding some shade is highly recommended especially when you’re out during midday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

UV Index 6-7

This level is described as having a high level of exposure to UV. This is usually the case on a sunny autumn or spring day. Exposure to the UV rays at this level will burn your skin in just 30 minutes. 

Apart from the sun protection suggested for those at the moderate level, it is advised to wear long sleeves and pants to further protect the skin of the extremities. 

However, do this only if you are comfortable wearing them. You still don’t want to get overheated. 

UV Index 8-10

This is where it gets pretty hot already. This level is considered very high and can be observed on a sunny summer day. 

Typically, most people will get sunburned after 15-25 minutes of UV exposure without protection at this level. 

It is recommended to limit your time outdoors when the UV index is already this high. Sunscreen helps but it should be reapplied after two hours. If the index is this high, it’s a good idea to seek shelter. 

UV Index 11+

This is considered extreme UV exposure. It is usually observed in places where there are high altitudes or in the tropical areas when it is very sunny outdoors.

Sunburns can be developed in as little as 10 minutes of UV exposure. In this case, you should make sure you limit your time outdoors and keep the skin efficiently protected.

Best UV Index For Tanning

Generally, you want to be out while the UV index is under 7, and only for a short time, ideally in the morning. Warm summer days with light clouds, where the UV index is a 5 or 6 at 9 am, those levels are the best UV index for tanning.

Once you get closer to noon and the index increases, it’s time to cover up.

There is a thin line between tanning and sunburn (too bad we can’t call it the “tan line“). That’s because the skin gets damaged and is at more risk for skin cancer whether you get a sunburn or just develop a tan. 

Getting a tan because of UV exposure is the skin’s reaction to protecting itself. It already detects harmful UV so the skin darkens as a means of protection. 

When you are trying to get tan without burning, the scale above is great to use. It tells you the average time that a person can get a sun burn depending on the UV index. 

Usually, most people can tan quickly without getting a sunburn if they have a suntan under a moderate UV index. However, this will still vary from one person to another.

In order to get the tan you want, you don’t just base it on the UV index. Exposure to UV radiation no matter how low or how high it is will eventually lead you to develop a tan or sunburn.

It is just a matter of time. 

When choosing the UV index, it is best to choose the lower ones because they are less likely to cause sunburn instantly. You must limit your exposure, let your tan build gradually over a number of days (don’t try to tan in one day outside), and try to tan in the morning to harness your circadian rhythms. 

Know Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type

Fitzpatrick Scale Source: Wikipedia

So you want to tan under the sun but hate the sunburn. The UV index can provide very useful information to help you with that. 

However, you should not just base it on the UV index. You should consider other factors such as your skin type.

Do you easily burn when exposed to the sun?

The Fitzpatrick skin phototype classifies the skin types according to the amount of melanin present. The classification helped identify who is most likely to get sunburned.

This classification has 6 different types. However, you should note that the classifications are mere guides and a person might not fall into the exact classification. 

Type 1

Those whose skin falls in this category have ivory skin, Their eye color is usually of the lighter blue shades, grays, and green. They may have naturally red or light blonde hair. 

Those with this type of skin find it hard to get a natural tan because they mostly never tan and just get burned easily. 

Type 2

Those under this category have pale or fair skin color with darker blue, green or gray eyes. They usually have blonde hair. 

Although this skin type could get a tan naturally under the sun, that rarely happens because they are more prone to sunburn or peeling skin.

Type 3

Those with this type of skin have beige or fair skin with golden undertones. Their eye color is usually light brown or hazel in color and their hair could either be dark blonde or a lighter shade of brown. 

These are somewhat in between because upon exposure to UV light, their skin sometimes gets a tan, and sometimes they get sunburned.

Type 4

These types are those who have natural light brown or olive skin with dark brown eyes. Their hair is dark brown in color. 

They are the ones who have tanned skin after UV exposure and they rarely get a sunburn.  

Type 5

People with dark brown skin are categorized under this type. Their eye color and hair range from black to dark brown.

These people always tan with enough UV exposure and will almost never sunburn

Type 6

Lastly, those under this type have the most pigmented skin. Their eye color is brownish-black and their hair is black. They tend to tan darkly and never get a sunburn.

If you fall under the type 1 and 2 category, you have a higher risk of getting sun damage and your skin is more prone to aging, melanoma, and skin cancer due to UV exposure. 

Belonging to these types means you should be more careful in exposing your skin to the sun because you’ll easily get sunburned and rarely tan. 

Even if you select tanning under the UV index, it may still be too much for you. 

Those who have type 3 to 6 skin may tan better under the sun and could be more resistant to sunburn. 

However, you must remember that too much sun exposure whether with sunburn or not could still increase your risk for skin cancer. 

The UV Index and Your Environment

Remember that the UV index is increased if you’re in an environment that is reflective, like that of a sandy beach. Winter snow is quite reflective as well, which is why skiers often wear sunscreen even though the UV index is low.

Consider your environment when you’re looking at the UV Index.

What UV Index Is Good For Tanning?

UV indexes that are good for tanning are the moderate levels between 3-7. At such levels, you can get a tan without exposing yourself for too long under the sun. Additionally, with the lower levels, you are less likely to develop sunburn immediately if proper precautions are made. 

Some people easily get a tan even with a low UV index while others do not. Observe your skin’s reaction to various UV indexes. 

Exposing yourself to UV light will eventually lead you to develop a tan. Tanning of the skin is a response to the damage brought about by UV light. Any UV index will lead you to develop a tan or even a sunburn, but it will depend on a variety of factors and can vary from one person to another.

What is the Lowest UV Index To Tan?

Basically any UV index level could allow you to tan, eventually. That’s because even if the UV rays are at lower levels, they can still damage your skin if you are exposed long enough.

You can still tan at a UV index of 1-2, and this can be a good idea. However, it will take longer to get a tan when exposing your skin to this UV level compared to other higher levels. 

You should also take note of how your skin reacts. Some people assume they won’t get a tan when exposed to low UV levels. However, that isn’t true. You might just need to expose yourself longer to the low UV levels to see a tan.

Does a Higher UV Mean More Tan?

Yes, a higher UV index means you will tan faster, but you will also burn faster, as well. This is why it’s not a good idea to tan when the UV index is too high. You just end up burning.

When you expose your body to more UV, that simply means that your skin will get more UV damage. Tanning is the skin’s response to UV damage as a means to protect itself from more exposure to UV. 

As a response, it produces melanin so your skin darkens. Each person’s maximum amount of melanin produced will vary and this is genetically based. Essentially, this means that there is a limit as to how dark you will tan depending on your genes and skin. 

Fair-skinned people naturally have lower melanin and they will not be able to produce as much as those people who have naturally darker skin. Even if their fair skin is exposed to more UV, they will just tan up to a certain extent. 

More UV can lead to faster UV damage so you will need less time for the skin to start reacting to it. In many cases, more UV or those that are higher levels can easily lead to sunburn rather than a tan.

Alternatives To Suntanning

Having skin that easily burns under the sun can be frustrating. Aim for the gold, land on the lobster. Yes, we’ve been there many times.

Luckily, there are alternatives to sun tanning. 

Using a tanning bed isn’t a good alternative. Tanning beds, just like the sun’s rays, use UV light to tan the skin.

If you easily burn under the sun, you are likely to burn under a tanning bed too if you are not extremely careful. 

You could, however, get a spray tan in a tanning salon or use self-tanning products like these at home:

They are fairly easy to apply and will give you a beautiful tan without the risk of getting a sunburn.  

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).