Tanning Bed Levels: What Do They Mean?

Beautiful fit woman smiling while applying nutritive oil on her skin before indoor tanning in a modern beauty salon
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Tanning salons provide various levels of tan beds.

The difference between the levels is determined by the tanning power, with level 1 being the lowest and the highest reaching level 6.

If you tan, this article will provide you with all the information you need to understand the various tanning bed levels and make the best choice for your skin. 


How Do Tanning Bed Levels Work?

Level 1 and 2 tanning beds use low-pressure bulbs with slower tanning, whereas subsequent tanning beds use high-pressure bulbs that tan the skin faster.

Most salons provide level 1 and level 2 options to their customers, particularly first-time and infrequent tanners. 

The higher levels are available for those seeking a darker and deeper experience, including more powerful so-called Instant Tanning Beds and Bronzing Beds. To understand how each level functions, let’s break it down.

Level 1

This is the lowest level bed, so the UV ray intensity is the lowest. These beds have 24 to 32 tanning bed lamps, a total bed wattage of 3,200, and an inbuilt cooling fan. Level 1 tanning beds are ideal for those prone to burns and are an excellent place to begin your tanning routine. 

Level 1 tanning beds are ideal for those prone to burns and are an excellent place to begin your tanning routine. 

It is also useful for those who want to deepen their tan for a longer-lasting glow. Level 1 tanning time is typically longer, but they are reasonably priced, making them affordable. If you enjoy the experience of a tanning bed, the level 1 beds are ideal for you.

You can sit back and relax for 15 to 20 minutes, imagining yourself tanning on a beach in Florida. They are also excellent choices for tanners who want to keep their tan or get a base tan for a sunny vacation or upcoming trip to the beach.

The only drawback is that you will need to tan frequently, up to four times per week.

Level 2 

Level 2 beds are very similar to level 1 beds in terms of the number of lamps, pricing, and tanning session. They do, however, provide special facial lamps and arm lamps designed to tan these unusual areas, which are not available with level 1 tanning beds. 

They also occasionally offer an upgrade in the regular body lamps by offering medium or low-pressure bulbs with a little more intensity but with a larger number of lamps, often more than 35. 

Tanners typically visit them Level 2 beds two to three times per week. Level 2 is ideal for progressing to higher levels while deepening that perfect tan once you have achieved a dark color

Level 3

Level 3 tanning beds are popular because they provide excellent color while also drawing from a deeper level in 2-4 weekly sessions.

With this bed level, you can tan for about 10-15 minutes. 

Level 4 

Level 4 tanning beds move you toward “instant tanning” speed. You would typically stay in one of these beds for about 12 minutes, with less UVB and more UVA than Level 3 sunbeds, ensuring a dark tan with virtually no risk of sunburn.

We’re moving to bronzing bulb territory here.

For faster tanning and maximum effect, it is recommended that you use this type of bed while alternating with the level 3 bed as frequently as possible. To maintain your tan, you can do 2-3 sessions of tanning per week with this tanning bed. 

Level 5

Level 5 beds typically have fewer UVB lamps with higher UVA than Level 4 tanning beds. You may find some red light therapy hybrid tanning beds in this category.

The tanning sessions are about 12 minutes long with a Level 5 bed. 

Level 6 

The level 6 tanning bed is an full on instant tanning! These are the highest intensity beds, using almost entirely UVA bronzing bulbs. It is also the highest-pressure bed, making it the most difficult to burn in. 

This bed produces an extremely dark tan in 10-12 minute sessions. You can achieve a brown, long-lasting tan in one session per week. 

Factors to Consider When Selecting Tanning Bed Level

When deciding on the best tanning bed level for your skin type, there are three major factors to consider; skin type tanning goals, and time

1. Skin Type

The sun emits two kinds of rays; UVB and UVA.  Because the intensity of UVB and UVA rays varies by bed level, it is important to select the best level option based on your skin type.

UVB rays, also known as burn rays, can only reach the skin’s surface, or outermost layer, providing a quick color (and also the important Vitamin D and Nitric Oxide prized from tanning)

While the quick color is great, it fades quickly because the skin constantly sheds and repairs itself. UVA rays, on the other hand, are longer and penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB rays.

They are known as bronzing rays because they penetrate deeper into the skin, resulting in a longer-lasting golden glow. Just remember that if you go UVA-only, you won’t have built up any base tan protection against UVB rays, should you go to the beach.

Just remember that if you go UVA-only, you won’t have built up any base tan protection against UVB rays, should you go to the beach.

2. Tanning Goals

While all tanning beds provide a combination of both rays, the higher the level of the bed, the more UVA, and the lower the level of the bed, the more UVB. This is important to remember when assessing your skin type and tanning goals. 

For example, if you need a base quickly, a level 5 tan will build one in two sessions with a 1–2-week maintenance schedule, whereas a level 1 tan will take 5-7 sessions with a 3–4-week maintenance schedule. If you are prone to sunburn, a higher dose of UVA will be beneficial.

If you’re coming in for a seasonal session and need vitamin D, a lower-level bed will suffice!

3. Tan Times

Tan times are typically longer in lower-level beds than in higher-level beds because lower-level beds do not penetrate the skin deeply. Level 1 beds, for example, can tan for a maximum of 20 minutes, whereas level 5 models can only tan for a maximum of 12 minutes.

If you are in a hurry, like chasing traffic or rushing for a last-minute date, a higher-level tanning bed with a shorter tanning period will be your best option.

But if you try to “jump in line” you may end up with a very unhealthy, unsightly sunburn.

Important tips

It is important to stick to the tanning-bed time appropriate for your skin type to avoid or reduce the risk of skin burns and peeling caused by tanning beds.

Even if you are a higher-level tanning bed user, you should still spend time in the lower-level beds. Yes, higher-level beds tan your skin quickly, but they also fade quickly. Alternating helps to maintain a healthy balance.

Tanning beds are clearly considered unhealthy and unsafe by most medical authorities. That said, everything you do entails some level of risk, and you need to pick the activities that make sense for you.

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).