Sometimes they occur just as you step out of the tanning bed. Sometimes they appear hours or even days later. Red, itchy bumps across the skin — often on the back, the legs, and the chest. Tanning bed rash.
Indoor tanning bed rash can appear almost anywhere on the body after tanning, and it can come on quickly and without warning. Often these rashes won’t appear for quite a while after a tanning session. It can be hard to connect the cause of the rash to any particular event or product.
In this article, I’ll take a look at tanning bed rash and examine possible prevention and treatment options.
Tanning Bed Rash
Tanning beds are a very popular way to achieve that glowing, sun-drenched look, even in the winter. They’re also commonly used in medical circumstances and are often involved in the treatment of skin disorders like psoriasis and vitiligo.
Virtually all users of indoor tanning beds are aware that the UV light of a tanning bed has health risks associated with it, most notably melanoma and other skin cancers. These concerns are no joke and should be taken seriously.
Another concern is tanning bed rash. Tanning bed rash is almost always not harmful, but it is annoying.
What Does Tanning Bed Rash Look Like on the Skin?
Tanning bed rash can show up in a few different formats. Most commonly, tanning bed rash consists of red splotchy bumps on the skin. To add to the complexity, often the tanning bed rash doesn’t immediately form, but rather starts with a small red itchy spot, and than gradually spreads out to a larger band across the body.
Commonly these itchy bumps from the tanning bed are found on the back of the legs, the knees, the back, and the stomach.
The main symptoms of tanning bed rashes are raised red or (in rare cases) white bumps on the skin, coupled with itching and redness.
Tanning bed rash should go away after a few days of typical skincare. If the bumps start to significantly blister, bleed, or stay present for a week or more, it’s time to check in with your doctor or dermatologist.
What Causes Tanning Bed Bumps?
You may be asking yourself why do I get itchy bumps after tanning? These happen pretty frequently.
There are a variety of different circumstances that can cause tanning bed bumps. Let’s look at some of the common causes here.
Poor Tanning Bed Cleaning
Tanning beds need to be regularly cleaned and sanitized, whether they are in a salon or in a home unit. If the tanning bed isn’t completely cleaned, then this will almost certainly lead to tanning bed rash. This is especially troublesome in places where users are expected to clean their own beds, such as Planet Fitness Tanning.
Most indoor tanning is done in the nude or perhaps with minimal clothing, and the body sweats a lot from the heat and power of the sun lamps. Couple that sweat with accelerator tanning oils, lotions, moisturizers, and the like, and you’ve got quite a soup in the tanning bed after use!
A high-quality cleaner like the Lucasol Hospital-Grade Tanning Bed Cleaner shown here is an absolute necessity for any tanning bed user. Hospital-grade cleaning products are the best.
Tanning beds put out some serious UV rays, and they’re not the same mix of rays you get when you sit outside in the sun. Tanning Bed UV bulbs have a different mix of UVA and UVB rays than what occurs outside and can be much more powerful. As the Australian Sunsmart website puts it, “The levels of UV radiation emitted from solariums can be up to six times as strong as the midday summer sun.”
This is quite powerful! Most dermatologists and skin cancer societies do not recommend unprotected exposure to UV light during the middle of the day at all, but tanning beds can produce UV light six times as powerful as that!
This level of power can cause a rash to break out on many people’s bodies after tanning. The hives occur frequently among those who have not used the tanning bed recently, and whose skin is just not used to that exposure.
Due to this, it is important that you start slowly with your tanning bed sessions, and limit your time and exposure until you’ve built up a base tan.
Dry skin can also be a common culprit for tanning bed bumps. All that sweating and oil soaked on the body can cause the skin to dry out, and can produce those itchy red bumps.
Consider using an after-tanning moisturizer like the Designer Skin Juicy After Tanning Extender in order to keep the skin looking and feeling great!
Heat Rash (Milaria)
Heat rash is different than tanning rash caused by UV-exposure. It occurs when sweat gets trapped between layers of the skin, resulting in discomfort and redness.
Some may find they get heat rash anytime it is hot and they are active, regardless of whether they are tanning or not. Often the areas where you’re wearing clothing or a bathing suit during the tanning session will be the location of the rash.
These sorts of rashes can be painful and itchy, and can be an additional nuisance when scratchy clothing rubs against them.
By tanning in the nude, you can partly reduce the incidence of heat rash. Additionally, consider cutting down the amount of time of each session in order to avoid this type of rash.
Can you have an allergic reaction to a tanning bed?
Yes, you can have an allergic reaction to a tanning bed. If your skin is particularly sensitive to beauty products, soaps, cosmetics, perfumes, and the like, you’ll probably have issues in tanning beds.
When you combine sweat and heat with all of those products commonly placed on the skin, even the cleanest tanning salon or tanning bed will still have some residue to contend with. This can be particularly problematic when you’re trying to combine working out with tanning.
And remember that the sanitizers used to clean the beds can be a source of an allergic reaction! It can be hard to pin down exactly what the issue is, but those of us who suffer from contact dermatitis or hives from tanning beds have to be diligent and careful about exposure.
Hives from Tanning Beds
Rarely are there any significant allergic reactions to all of the products discussed above, and usually, it’s just the annoying itchy rash that comes from using non-hypoallergenic products.
If you suspect an allergic reaction, stop using any skin care products on your skin that might cause a problem. Ensure that your tanning lotion or oil isn’t the issue.
Beyond that, consider using an antihistamine to control the contact dermatitis. If that doesn’t help, you could inquire with your doctor about a steroid cream to see if clears it up.
And of course, be sure the tanning bed is as clean as possible. If you suspect that the cleaning solution itself is the cause, consider going to a different tanning salon, or request that a different cleaner is used and see if that helps.
Photophobia (Light Sensitivity Disorder)
In some rare cases, people suffer from photophobia or light sensitivity disorder. Individuals who have this condition have heightened visual sensitivity to various types of light. Ultraviolet light is particularly challenging and can be the cause of discomfort, pain, migraine headaches, and the like.
Photophobia is most common among those with very light skin, and light eye color (blue eyes). And because the UV light expressed by a tanning bed is so powerful and concentrated, those with Photophobia will be particularly impacted by tanning beds.
If you find that you’re feeling woozy after a tanning bed session, or you otherwise have significant health impacts, it’s best to contact your doctor immediately and cease any visits to a tanning salon or tanning bed until you have a better sense of what is going on.
And of course, always wear your protective goggles when tanning. Yes, you may have to deal with raccoon eyes. But they are a must for safety reasons.
What To Do If You Get Tanning Bed Rash
If you think you’ve got a tanning bed rash, it’s time to take a break from indoor tanning for a while and see if the rash clears up. With luck, it was just a transient thing, and you can get back to your old routine in short order.
But continuing to go for more sunbed sessions, even with a tanning rash, will probably make things worse. Continued exposure will increase the size of the rash, and may make it appear in other places, like on the face and neck, where you really don’t want to have to deal with a rash.
If you stop visiting the salon and the rash doesn’t clear up after a couple of weeks or gets worse, it’s time to see a dermatologist.
They will likely tell you to stop going to a tanning salon altogether.
How to Get Rid of Tanning Bed Itch
As mentioned above, the first step to getting rid of your tanning bed itch is to take a break from the tanning salon or tanning bed for a while. You should even take a break from any outdoor sunbathing, as well. Cover up more than usual, and give your skin a rest for a bit.
Keep in mind that scratching your rash can make it worse, and can make it blister and bleed. Try to avoid agitating the broken-out skin.
Moisturize with a fragrance-free daily moisturizer, especially in the area of the rash. Vanicream’s daily moisturizer is a decent, inexpensive choice in these cases.
Take luke-warm showers, and be sure to gently clean the area of the rash. Don’t crank up the heat too much in the shower, as that can make the rash worse.
With luck and care, the rash should go away over the course of a day or two.
If it remains or gets worse for over 5 days, contact your doctor and have it checked out.
How to Prevent Tanning Bed Rash
The best way to avoid tanning bed rash is to take a few precautionary steps before you get into the tanning bed.
Consider the General Cleanliness of the Tanning Salon
The first thing to do is to look at the overall cleanliness of the tanning salon you’re going to, or the gym, spa, or whatever. If the staff is conscientious enough to keep the floor space clean, tidy, and organized, then they’re probably on top of the tanning bed cleaning as well.
Tanning beds should be cleaned thoroughly after each customer goes in, and you should also consider the state of the tanning beds. The tanning beds should be in a state of good repair, and you should be asking yourself “am I sure I want to put my naked body on that?”
Ask what types of cleaning products the salon or gym uses on their tanning beds. Hospital-grade products are clearly the best, and that’s what the response should be.
Of course, if we’re talking about a home tanning bed, then you are the cleaner! Use a hospital-grade tanning bed sanitizer for safety.
Choose a Stand-Up Tanning Bed if Available
Many salons offer both traditional lay-down tanning beds and stand-up beds (or booths). Laying down is typically seen as more comfortable, and it’s more like laying down to tan at the beach. But standing up means you’re not really touching the bed itself, and you’re less likely to get a rash.
Do a Second Wipe-Down Before Tanning
It’s totally acceptable to bring a pack of nonscented baby wipes to the tanning salon and do a quick wipe-down of the bed prior to stepping inside. You can even ask the staff to do a second quick cleaning, or ask for a bit of their cleaning solution and do a touch-up. This will give you peace of mind, knowing that the bed doesn’t just look clean, it is clean.
Don’t Try Any New Tanning Products Right Before the Tanning Bed Session
If it’s been a while since you’ve done any tanning, indoor or outdoor, then keep it simple for the first few sessions. Don’t try any additional tanning lotions, accelerators, etc. before tanning those first few times, and let your body get used to the UV rays before you add any other factors.
See this article on how tanning oils work for more details on tanning lotions and oils.
Start with Short Sessions
It’s a great idea to keep your tanning bed sessions short. Sure, most dermatologists recommend 0-minute tanning sessions. But most indoor tanning lovers will want to aim for 15 minutes or so, at least to start. Keep it simple, don’t push yourself to stay in the bed too long for a session, and allow your body to acclimate to the UV rays over the course of several days.
Use Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen in the Tanning Bed
Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF30+ before you get in the tanning bed. Remember that SPF ratings only pertain to UVB radiation, and those numbers don’t provide any information on UVA protection. UVA is what most tanning beds primarily use.
For this reason, it is critical that you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.
See this article on the Benefits of Tanning for a deep dive into SPF and sunscreen.
Zinc Oxide sunscreens are currently considered the best choice, as they aren’t absorbed into the skin. The Blue Lizard Sensitive Sunscreen SPF30 is an excellent body sunscreen and the EltaMD UV Facial Broad Spectrum SPF30 is a great face sunscreen.
Conclude Your Tanning Session with Aloe Vera
After you’re done your tanning bed session, give your skin a soothing kiss with some aloe vera gel. Aloe vera is well known to cool and pamper the skin after sun exposure, and a gentle aloe treatment will help prevent itchy tanning bed bumps from forming. It also feels great on the skin after a session.
The Seven Minerals Pure Aloe Vera Gel is an excellent choice for this.
Consider Other Tanning Options
As I mentioned above, virtually all skin scare societies and dermatology societies like the American Academy of Dermatology strongly advise against the use of tanning beds. Even the more sunlight-positive groups like Australia’s SunSmart organization are extremely anti-tanning bed, and want tanning beds banned altogether.
Many health organizations rank tanning beds as class 1 carcinogens and place them in the same category as cigarettes and asbestos.
And don’t forget that the UV light spectrum produced in a tanning bed is not the same as sunlight. It’s more powerful and more concentrated than the noonday sun.
All this is to say that spray tanning is a great option for those who want a tanned look, but who are concerned about the health impacts of tanning beds. See this article on spray tanning vs tanning beds for more information.
Tanning bed rash and tanning bed hives are generally pretty preventable if you’re cautious around your indoor tanning practices. But they can happen even in the most sanitary environments. If you break out in a rash, stop tanning immediately, both indoor and outdoor tanning. Give the skin a few days to recover, and with luck, the tanning bed rash will go away on its own. You can then cautiously resume your tanning sessions.
If the tanning bed rash doesn’t go away in a week or to, seek medical attention to ensure that there isn’t anything else going on that you need to be aware of.
And as always, consider other options for getting that dappled sun-kissed glow!