How Tanning Bed Lamps Work
The idea behind a tanning bed is to simulate the rays of the sun in a controlled, focused environment to create a quick tan. This is accomplished by the use of special tanning bed lamps or bulbs which emit ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light is not visible to the human eye so lamps and bulbs that create it often have an interior coating to make the light visible. Whether a light is ultraviolet is determined by the wavelength of the light. For the purposes of tanning, UV light is broken down into UVA, UVB and UVC. These three types of UV light have different effects on the human body.
The tanning bed lamps should not use UVC light for tanning. If the lamp creates this type of UV, a shield should be used to block it. UVB is also considered dangerous but is the type that causes melanin to be created and secreted so some tanning bed lamps create up to 5% UVB.
UVA is the type of light thought to be the best for tanning. This is the type of radiation that stimulates existing melanin and oxidizes it to cause the tan. The tanning bed lamps create more UV rays than on a typical sunny day which makes a fast surface tan that fades quickly and does not protect the skin from sunshine.
There are two basic types of tanning bed lamps, high pressure bulbs and low pressure lamps. The high pressure bulbs are usually smaller than the low pressure lamps. All bulbs need a way to control the flow of power into it. The normal incandescent light bulb used in a house lamp uses a filament. Tanning bed lamps are plasma bulbs like neon lights and use a device called a ballast to regulate the power supply.
The most common high pressure bulbs are in the 400 watt range and are used as an added face tanner. High pressure bulbs use quartz glass which does not filter UVC rays. Make sure that these three to five inch bulbs are always used with a special filter glass for safety. This glass is usually purple. UVC is useful for purifying water or to kill germs but is very damaging to skin. Low pressure tanning bed lamps are long and resemble fluorescent bulbs. The glass on these lamps filters out UVC rays. Although the ultraviolet rays from tanning bed lamps are controlled and filtered, they create the same kind of radiation as the sunshine that causes tanning and burning. The same kind of care should be taken when exposed to tanning beds.