Does Tanning Burn Calories?

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If you’ve been wondering about whether tanning burns calories, you have no doubt come across a lot of conflicting information!

Does tanning burn calories? In a sense, tanning may burn some calories. But it is not a good way to lose weight.

In this article, we are going to sort through the information, explain how the body burns calories, look into the recent study that suggests tanning may have weight loss benefits, and finally end the debate.


Understanding your Metabolism

Understanding how your body burns calories is key to helping you sort through all the info out there. It’s important to understand the “how” so you know enough to differentiate between the facts and the misinformation.

While people often think about metabolism as how your body turns food into energy and burns calories, that’s only one part. Metabolism describes all the chemical processes that go on continuously inside your body to keep you alive and your organs functioning normally, like breathing, repairing cells, and digesting food.

Part of the metabolic process is the way the body turns food into energy and supplies that energy to cells.

This energy can come from what you eat or from fat reserves stored in the body. 

The amount of energy needed depends on the body’s level of physical activity. But even when at rest, the body still consumes a minimum level of energy and burns calories, to maintain basic bodily functions; this is known as the ‘basal metabolic rate’, or BMR.

Just to be clear- your basal metabolic rate is the rate at which the body converts calories to energy (burns calories) when you are doing nothing, like when you are sleeping… or say lying in the sun, tanning.

Does Sweating Burn Calories?

Now it’s easy to see where this idea comes from. Lying out in the baking sun tends to make you sweat. Most of us associate sweating with exercise and burning calories. So it makes sense that one might think tanning is also burning calories.

Humans are endothermic, or warm-blooded, which means that we internally regulate our own body temperature.

Shivering, when your body is subjected to cold, is one of the body’s natural ways of regulating body temperature.

Sweating is another way your body is able to regulate its temperature.

It does this by releasing water and salt, which evaporates to help cool you.

Other physical responses to warm temperatures include relaxing the muscles, lowering the production of adrenaline, and lowering the rate at which metabolism occurs.

When the body is warm and at rest, the BMR drops. This means that the body is burning fewer calories to keep itself functioning. The human body actually speeds up your metabolism and burns more calories if you are cold – not hot and sweating!

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should be experimenting with hypothermia for weight loss!

You need to remember that when we are talking about  “burning calories” in terms of temperature, we are still talking at the basal metabolic rate. That is, the rate your body burns calories when doing nothing.

Doing ANY type of activity will burn more calories than lying down and doing nothing, regardless of the temperature of your environment.

You don’t need to be sweating to burn calories.

Activities that don’t make you sweat much, like swimming, walking, or exercising when it’s cold outside in the winter, also burn calories.

There is no direct correlation between sweating and burning calories – it’s not the sweating that burns calories, it’s the activity.

Does Tanning Burn Calories?

Okay, so we’ve blown the theory that “sweating while you are tanning burns calories” out of the water, but this has not been the only argument made in defense that tanning burns calories.

There was a study published just a few years ago that found that the visible blue light from the sun that penetrates our skin reduces lipid droplets in size and releases them from the cell. In other words, our cells don’t store as much fat.

Whoo-hoo! So all I have to do is soak up a few rays and I will start shedding my excessive adipose layer and be bikini-ready in no time! Tanning for weight loss, a miracle!

Not exactly.

While it appears that Vitamin D from UV light may help shrink fat deposits somewhat, it’s not a magic weight loss cure.

Many of us put on the pounds around the wintertime, which is when we get the least amount of UV light exposure. Given that we know circadian rhythms impact many different aspects of our body, including our weight, it’s not crazy to think that greater sun exposure could help burn calories.

There are real benefits to tanning, which are often forgotten when people focus only on the (significant) risks of tanning.

All that said, a 30-minute jog in the sun would be much more beneficial than 30 minutes laying on the beach. You’ll burn a whole lot more calories on your jog than you will while tanning.

And you can still get that sun exposure while jogging, too!

Even the Director of the Alberta Diabetes Institute and co-author of the study, Dr. Peter Light, warned: “the finding is only an initial observation, and sunbathing is not a safe or recommended way to lose weight.”

He also went on to add that it is not clear how much of this light would be required or how long you would have to stay in the sun for this to happen. 

How many calories does tanning burn?

This depends on how big you are, but you are looking at burning 60-120 calories per hour of tanning, depending on your size. The larger you are, the more you’ll burn.

As a comparison, we burn about 50 calories per hour by sleeping. So this is not a significant amount of calorie burn.

Take Away

Does sunbathing burn calories? The latest science suggests that it is possible UV light will help burn calories and cut fat.

But this is incredibly inefficient!

If you want to lose weight, get your sun exposure while outside exercising as opposed to laying on the beach!

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).