Sun Tanning

How Long Does It Take to Tan?

Last Updated: August 14, 2023

In This article....

  • Discover the crucial factors that influence how quickly you tan, and how to effectively and safely achieve a desirable tan both in the sun and in a tanning bed.
  • Learn about different tanning methods and their associated risks, with emphasis on how to avoid sunburn, premature skin aging, and other long-term effects.
  • Get insights into how to optimize your tanning sessions based on the time of day, the intensity of UV exposure, and other strategic considerations.

People can have completely different experiences when tanning; this is usually based on their skin type, the tanning products they use, when and where they go to tan as well as how often they do. All these factors actually determine how quickly you will develop a tan but there is a general expectation from tanning in the sun and tanning in a sunbed that we will discuss to ultimately answer the question: how long does it take to tan? Plus we will explain how to achieve an awesome looking tan effectively and safely through both ways.

How long does it take to tan in the sun?

Sunbathing can be a lengthy process because there are a lot of elements surrounding the outdoors that you have to consider. For instance the time of year, cloud coverage, and very importantly, the sun itself. Is it hot enough today? Will it remain sunny for the rest of the day?

The answers to these questions are key to knowing how long it will take you to achieve a suntan. So if the sun is out in all its glory and the weather forecast says that there will be a few hours of clear skies, then you will probably get some color. Skin shading color to be specific.

On a quick note, when sun tanning, try to limit your sessions as much as possible and make sure to wear sunscreen to protect your skin (preferably a broad spectrum SPF of 50 for longer durations of tanning). A good idea is to apply a tan intensifier or maximizer lotion, which will help to speed up the tanning process and get you even darker, ultimately this means less time in the sun.

Nonetheless, it will take about two hours to see significant color heightening on a hot day and with the use of a good darkening lotion. If the sun doesn’t seem bright or hot enough, it should be okay to add another 30 – 45 minutes to the total tanning time.

This duration of time is necessary to deliver a nice suntan glow that will also last longer. A good suggestion would be to wrap up for the day, after two hours or so, and perhaps head back the following day to darken up if needs be.

If time is of the essence and you only have a day to try and brighten up your complexion, then there is a way. Start tanning early with a 2-hour morning session, say anywhere between 8 and 11 am. Take a break for a few hours then resume tanning in the late afternoon for another 2 hours at about 3 or 4 pm.

Most of you may already have experience tanning and know how your skin reacts to long periods of direct UV exposure or sunlight. With that said, you should know if 2 hours is too long. Individuals with naturally lighter complexion tend to burn easily and faster. If that’s the case, perhaps sunbathing for an hour per session is best and then follow-up the next day. It may take a couple of days to see significant color deepening when you tan this way, but it’s definitely the safest route.

Tanning for more than 3 to 4 hours straight in one session may have horrid repercussions like sunburn and the pain associated with it after plus with routine tanning like this, you’re also looking at long-term effects like skin aging, wrinkles, and let’s not forget the big one – cancer… so take it easy.

How long does it take to tan in a tanning bed?

Getting a tan in a tanning bed may be a bit more reliable since you can actually determine which beds to use and control the light intensity levels. Tanning intensifier and maximizer lotions can be used in a sunbed and do just about the same to help you tan faster and improve the overall look of your tan.

Similarly, like sunbathing you don’t want to spend overly long periods of time in the sunbed. It’s better to split up your sessions over a couple of days until you see the tanning results you want. Unfortunately, unlike the sun, this may come at a hefty cost – salons aren’t cheap. It is especially taxing if you need a couple of sessions to reach a desirable skin shade and if maintaining your tan is a requirement of yours.

In my experience, high-level beds are the best for tanning or bronzing your skin and as you can imagine, they are the most expensive ones to use as well. These beds use tanning lamps with UVA bulbs that not only brown your skin faster but do so without causing burns plus it produces longer-lasting results.

Lower level beds use regular tanning lamps with UVB bulbs or a combination of UVB and UVA for the medium levels, which tend to give you a light tan gradually with every session and are likely to cause burns on your skin.

The fastest way to get tanned using a sunbed would be to use a high-level bed (level 5 or 6) with the combination of a good intensifier or maximizer lotion. Doing this will require only 10 minutes of tanning time and just one session per week.

The lower the bed level means longer tanning sessions, lighter tanning results, and reduced longevity of your color.

Some people who have experience tanning will tell you, the use of a high-level bed is probably not the best way to tan for a number of reasons, and valid they are.

Using high-level beds may give you extreme tanning results or skin darkening, leaving your skin to look very unnatural. If you are very pale in complexion, then this method may not be right for you.

Perhaps starting off with a lower or medium-level bed will be better suited. This way you can achieve a gradual tan over time to see how your skin reacts to the treatment and then take it from there with follow up sessions.          

The good thing about tanning at a salon is that their service comes with some pretty good advice. Feel free to talk to the tanning advisors on staff about your needs and they will be happy to help you choose the right sunbed and even the tanning lotions to use. Although, you should know those salon products are a bit pricier, so in the meantime, here are a few recommendations for tanning accelerator lotions that will help to boost and bronze your complexion to a stunning and healthy looking glow.

1. Australian Gold Velocity, 2. Australian Gold Rapid Tanning Intensifier, 3. Millennium Black Chai, 4. Hempz Golden Beach Tan Maximizer, 5. Ed Hardy Stay Golden, 6. Millennium Tanning New Solid Black 100X, 7. Designer Skin Black, 8. Ed Hardy Coconut Kisses, 9. Australian Gold Cheeky Brown Accelerator, 10. Protan Simply Instantly Black

See the options for indoor/outdoor use as well – Happy Tanning!

I'm Amelia Hong, a proud staff writer for, hailing from sunny Los Angeles. My passion for the outdoors and wellness reflects in the informative content I create about tanning and skin care. When I'm not busy writing, you'll find me spending quality time with my family and my wonderful dog, Archie. I truly believe that a healthy glow stems from a balanced life full of love and laughter.