How To Tell If Tanning Bulbs Are Bad

Tanning Bed
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After many uses, tanning bed bulbs will gradually lose their effectiveness. Even though they still light up, they won’t be as efficient at producing that luxurious tan.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to test tanning bed bulbs, and we’ll go over everything you need to know to determine if you need to replace your bulbs.

Whether you’re a tanning salon owner, you have a sunbed for home use, or even just a frustrated tanning enthusiast wondering how to tell if tanning bed bulbs are bad, we’ve got you covered!


How Long Do Tanning Bed Bulbs Last?

The manufacturer sets the estimated amount of time the lamps will last, and there is some variation between manufacturers and models. They measure this time in hours of use. This number usually ranges between 1000 and 2000 hours. Effectiveness, however, reduces significantly sooner than that. 

By 500 hours, most lamps have reached as low as 50% of their original intensity.

By 500 hours, most lamps have reached as low as 50% of their original intensity.

Most salons choose to replace their lamps at this point. If you have competition in your area, it is difficult not to follow along those lines since your machines aren’t going to be producing the results they once did.

Customers will be able to tell!

If you’re using your bed for home use, you may be able to stretch it out a little longer than that. But you may start to notice that your tanning bed is giving somewhat uneven tanning results.

Never partially replace tanning bed bulbs!

This one is really important. When it is replacement time, you need to replace all the lamps. Some people think that they can find just the faulty ones and substitute those. It does not work that way, unfortunately. 

Since tanning lamps are installed together by the manufacturer and have a predetermined life expectancy, they go bad at the same time.

Even if you’re only seeing a few of the bulbs flickering or fading, the other ones are the same age, and will be failing soon as well. 

In addition, you will never be able to keep track of when the lamps need replacement if you are changing only a few here and there from time to time.

How To Tell If Tanning Bed Bulbs Are Bad

Here’s how to test tanning bed bulbs.

There are three signs to look out for when the time comes to replace the tanning bulbs in your tanning bed:

  1. Check your notes on how many hours the bulbs have been used. If more than 500 hours, you’ll need to replace them. You’ve been taking notes, right?
  2. Use your tanning beds from time to time. If you notice that the same effect you had at 10 minutes of use seems to be happening more towards the 15-minute mark, then that is a solid clue that your lamps need replacement.
  3. If you see lamps flickering, the bulbs are long overdue. Tanning effects reduce long before the lamps approach the end of their physical lives.
  4. If the tanning bed is used in a salon and a year has definitely passed since you last replaced the bulbs, it is time to do it again.  Bulbs in-home tanning beds, on the contrary, last around three to four years.

Be sure to keep track of when you installed new lamps and look out for the 500-hour mark. That would be the most definite reason to replace the lamps.

You can buy a small timer and keep it next to the bed, and start it every time you operate the device- with no resets, of course!

Bronzing and Tanning Bulbs

If you’re a customer who is trying to figure out why a tanning bed isn’t producing results, the bulbs may be the culprit, but it’s hard to tell.

One thing to consider is whether the bulbs you’re using are bronzing bulbs or tanning bulbs. If you are starting out tanning, and are using a bronzing bed, you’re not going to be seeing much in the way of results for a while.

Or if you’re using a tanning bed and really want to get a deep tan, you may not be able to get there.

There is a reason for both systems, and most salons have multiple beds, some bronzing, and some tanning.

Make sure you’re using the right bed for your needs.

Know Your Tanning Bed Bulbs

Wolff Tanning Bed Bulbs

There are a few basics when it comes to tanning bed bulbs. The main areas of difference are:

  • The Pin Connections
  • Bulb sizes
  • The Wattage
  • The Ratio of UVB/UVA light (tanning vs bronzing bulbs)

For reference we’ve put together a guide of the best tanning bed bulbs should you determine you need new lamps.

Pin Connections: Bi Pin and RDC Tanning Bed Lamps

You’ll find two types of tanning bulbs that are commonly available. While newer beds tend to use bi-pin bulbs, you may come across some old beds that are still equipped with RDC bulbs. Take a look at your bulbs to get a better idea of the type that is installed in your tanning bed.

This is what a Bi-Pin bulb looks like:

Bi-Pin Bulb

And this is what an RDC bulb looks like:

RDC Bulb

In general, most sizes come in either bi-pin or RDC and not both.

Tanning Bed Bulb Sizes

There are a few different sizes of tanning lamps. Some of the sizes that you’ll see most frequently are the F71, F73, and F59 varieties. “F” means “fluorescent” in the name, and the number is used to represent the bulb’s nominal length.

If you’re looking to replace your bulbs, obviously you need to stick the same size bulbs.

Bronzing vs Tanning Bulbs

Bronzing bulbs give relatively more UVA light, while traditional tanning bulbs give relatively more UVB light. Depending on what you want to do, you may want to choose one or the other.

Typically if you’re starting out building your tan, you would want to use regular bulbs, as these will more quickly give you a “base tan”. But if you are looking to take your existing tan to the next level, you may want to jump into a bronzing bed.

The higher amount of UVA light from bronzing bulbs will make a tan deeper, but is not as good at getting you to a base tan.

Tanning Bed Bulb FAQ

How do I know what bulbs to buy for my tanning bed?

Check your previous bulbs. Look for a model type in the form of Fxx, where the “xx” is two numbers. You can also contact the bed manufacturer or look your specific bed up online.

I’ve just bought a second-hand sunbed on eBay, and I don’t know if it needs new tubes.

Most likely, it does. If it is priced low, it will need new lamps. The most expensive component of the bed is efficient bulbs, hence the low price.

Can I increase my wattage?

You can’t typically increase the wattage. If your bed has 100w sunbed tubes like these Wolff tubes, then you must stick to 100w.

Why do I have to replace my sunbed tubes if they still light up?

This is because tanning bed lights will still be able to produce light, but will become much less efficient at helping you tan about halfway through their lifespan. If you want your tanning bed to actually work, you’ll have to replace the bulbs frequently.

Final Thoughts

Most people want to tan fast in a tanning bed. If your bulbs aren’t working right, well, you’ll be tanning slowly, if at all.

Knowing when it is time to change the bulbs in your tanning bed can seem tricky at first. That is what our guide on how to test tanning bed bulbs is here for!

It is a three steps process. Look out for signs that your bulbs are starting to lose efficiency. Once you replace them, keep track of operating hours. Follow the “no partial replacements” rule.

When you’re ready to make the switch, see our guide to changing tanning bed lamps.

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).