The slow and deliberate process of getting a tan is known as base tanning. Although the process is controversial to some people, building a base tan is a relatively simply process. In most cases, simply increasing exposure to natural or artificial light gradually over a specified time period will enhance tanning. Other products such as sunscreen, moisturizer or sunless tanning lotions might also prove useful in developing base tans.
Tans result from production of a bodily substance called melanin. This substance is useful because it helps protect the skin from excessive exposure to light. Melanin works by forming a protective covering around DNA and by thickening the skin’s top layer, which is called the epidermis. Base tans result when an individual slowly increases his or her exposure to sunlight or artificial ultraviolet (UV) light and therefore gradually darkens the skin over time.
Perhaps the most important component in developing a base tan is keeping a regular tanning schedule, either via sunlight exposure or via tanning beds. In general, individuals should expose themselves to ultraviolet light for about 15 minutes at least three times a week, although these numbers might differ by individual. For the first few tanning sessions, times should be limited to just a few minutes, however. Whether an individual uses a tanning bed or natural sunlight, it is important to expose all desired body parts equally. About six to 10 tanning sessions might be needed before the base tan begins to appear.
Certain products might help build a base tan. Tanning lotions, for example, might help protect the skin and enhance the appearance of the tan. Some lotion types contain tan accelerants such as L-tyrosine. Moisturizing additives might also accelerate tan development for some individuals. In addition, applying moisturizer after a tanning session might help preserve the tan's color and duration. Such products, however, might induce unpleasant side effects in some individuals.
Caution is an important variable in developing a base tan. Some individuals have a lower tolerance for ultraviolet light exposure, resulting in easily burned skin, and in some cases, overexposure to UV light can raise the risks of skin cancer. For these reasons, individuals should be aware of the skin’s limitations and restrict exposure accordingly. A good tanning lotion also will help reduce inherent tanning risks. Many of these products have a numbered safety designation called a sun protection factor (SPF), and an SPF reading of about 15 is considered a good protective measure by many medical professionals.
Researchers have debated the helpfulness and the safety of building a base tan. Proponents claim that a base tan can prevent sunburning. Others argue that a base tan actually provides a low level of protection from the sun. These individuals also contend that base tanning requires more exposure to UV light, which might heighten certain risk factors, including skin cancer.
If an individual's main motivation for tanning is aesthetic appearance, a realistic-looking tan can be obtained through sunless tanning methods. These are techniques and products that do not make use of UV light, including airbrush tanning, bronzing and application of lotions containing melanin simulators or enhancers. The success of these products is largely dependent on individual skin responses.