How Long Does It Take to Tan? (Sunbathing, Spray Tans, and Tanning Beds)

So you’re headed to the beach hoping to get a caramely tan, bathing in the sun, and sipping Pina Coladas. Or maybe you just purchased a fancy spray tan machine to get that bronzy glow at home. You’re probably also wondering, how long does it take to tan?

Many women and men who don’t have a naturally tan skin tone love to get a tan in the sun or artificially. However, the time it takes to get that tan depends on various factors. This may include the tanning method, skin tone, and use of SPF

It’s also important to know how long it takes to tan safely, especially in the sun, as long sun exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can be hazardous. I’ll also talk about the time it takes to tan in a tanning bed or with a spray tanning machine. 

Key Takeaways

  • Tanning in the sun can give you a tan in 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your skin tone, skin type, sun’s intensity, and altitude. 
  • A spray tan machine can give you a tan in 8-12 hours, depending on your skin tone, tanning solution, and the spray gun. 
  • Tanning in a tanning bed requires two to three sessions to show results, each lasting 10 to 20 minutes. There may be a week’s time or a few days in between the sessions, so it takes longer. 
  • The time it takes for the skin to tan primarily depends on the skin tone, as brown skin tones are more likely to tan and don’t require much tanning, as they are already tanner. 
  • Light skin tones take the longest to tan and may even burn if proper protective measures are not taken. 
  • Exfoliation, moisturization, and wearing SPF is important while tanning. 

How Long Does It Take to Tan in the Sun? 

It can take as little as 10 minutes for the skin to tan, at least a little, when exposed to the sun without SPF. However, most skin tones can get tanned in one hour to a few hours in the sun. Using tanning lotions can also impact the time it takes to tan in the sun. 

Some skin tones may not even need a bronzing lotion to properly tan in the sun, particularly brown and dark skin tones that tan more easily. For pale skin tones, say ivory or alabaster, using a tanning lotion or bronzer may be necessary to amplify the impact of the sun. 


It’s important to understand how the sun tans the skin. When the lower layers of skin absorb UV radiation, melanin is produced, which is responsible for the pigmentation of the skin. 

The best way to tan in the sun is to bathe for 30 to 40 minutes without wearing SPF. After that, apply a copious amount of sunblock with high SPF (preferably 50+) all over your body. 

When tanning in the sun, you should also remember that some skin types/tones are susceptible to burning in the sun rather than tanning. Again, these are typically pale skin tones with red/pink undertones that don’t absorb UV radiation very well. If you have such skin, don’t stay in the sun without SPF, or you’ll get sunburn.

To sum it up, darker skin tones need no more than an hour to tan, whereas lighter skin tones need at least an hour to tan, preferably with tan enhancing products. 

How Long Does It Take to Tan with a Spray Tan Machine?

Spray tan machines are popular for at-home tanning, but you can also find them at salons, where they use these machines with tanning solutions to provide a tan in a matter of minutes. 

Now, it’s important to understand that while it doesn’t take long for the application, the tan in the skin can take much longer to appear. Also, much of it depends on the tanning solution you’re using with the machine and, to some extent,  the machine. 

You’ll see tan spray machine brands claiming their machine tans in just five minutes. Well, news flash, that’s just the time the machine takes to spray the solution on your body. Your skin will require some time to absorb that self-tanning lotion and for that spray to do its job. 

It can take up to 12 hours for your skin to tan after a spray tan session at a salon or at home. Some accelerated tans may produce results relatively quicker in about five to six hours

Drying takes 10 to 15 minutes, but absorption takes hours, so you must be patient. Still, I believe spray tanning is a quick tanning method. Suppose you have to go somewhere in the evening; you can get the tan by that time if you do the spray early in the morning. That’s a good deal, right?

Also, you can’t shower for at least eight hours after the spray tan session. It doesn’t work as quickly as the sun but is quicker than a tanning bed. 

How Long Does It Take to Tan in a Tanning Bed? 


Tanning beds vary in terms of how long it takes for your skin to tan, as some tanning beds are high-level (read more powerful) than others and tan skin faster. On the other hand, some tanning beds don’t have higher settings or UVA rays and require multiple small sessions to get that tan, especially if you have pale skin. 

Normally, tanning sessions in tanning beds last for 10 to 20 minutes. Too long in the bed, and you risk burning your skin or getting too much of a tan that simply looks manufactured. Too many comedy scenes in movies and TV prove that, but seriously speaking, don’t spend too long in the tanning bed in one session. 

Now, with one session lasting 10 to 20 minutes, you may need several of them, depending on your skin tone. Pale skin tones may need two to three sessions, one week apart, to get the desired almost natural-looking tan. 

Darker skin tones may start to see results with just one or two sessions because these skin tones readily get tanned. 

Keep in mind that using a bronzer or self-tanning lotion can also help with the process. 

For most skin tones, multiple short sessions may be necessary, especially if the intensity of the machine is low. The best way to go about tanning in a bed at a tanning salon is to speak with the staff there and ask about the machine as to how long it normally takes and what settings. 

Most tanning salons will provide an initial consultation based on your skin tone and tan needs. They can better tell you exactly how many sessions you’ll need and how long each session will last. But knowing beforehand also helps so you don’t end up paying for sessions you don’t necessarily need. 

What Impacts the Time It Takes to Tan?


As you can probably gather by now, the time it takes to tan depends on several factors. So there’s no magic number here; it all comes down to your skin tone and what method of tanning you’re using. Similarly, these factors also impact the duration the tan lasts

Natural and Geographical Factors

Factors like the intensity of the sun (UV index), altitude, or even the location can impact the tanning time. Similarly, the duration you’re in the sun also has a big impact, as the longer you’re in the sun, the tanner you’ll get, but that comes at the expense of exposing yourself to health risks such as skin cancer. 

How hot the sun is on that particular day can influence the time it takes to tan. If the sun’s rays are quite intense, they will penetrate deeper and activate melanin production quicker. Hence, you’ll get a deeper tan rather quickly. 

More importantly, the altitude also impacts tanning time as the sun’s radiation is stronger at elevation. With every 1000 meters, UV rays levels increase by 10 percent. So you’re likely to tan faster on a hill or mountain than at a beach!

The location and the climate conditions also accelerate the tanning rate. Humid places are more tan-friendly, as the moisture in the environment prevents the tan from fading. This is why places by the water are good for tanning. 

Skin Tone

Want to know how long does it take to tan? Pay attention to your skin tone. There are many different skin tones out there, but most fall into three main categories: pale, brown, and dark. Brown or dark brown skin is likely to tan quicker than pale skin because these skin tones already have higher melanin. 

It’s no rocket science, as the lighter the skin is, the longer it will take to tan. Simple!

Tanning Method

As discussed, different tanning methods take different time to show results. Tanning beds may take a few weeks to show the desired results because they require several sessions. On the other hand, spray tan machines can get the job done in half a day. 

Sun tanning varies greatly depending on the methods mentioned above, but generally, it takes an hour or two to show results. 

Does SPF Impact Tanning Time?

Sun Protection Factor or SPF also impacts tanning time but in the other way. SPF may slow down the time it takes to tan, but it’s an essential component of the tanning process, ensuring that you get the tan safely. 

It’s SPF’s job to slow down the absorption of UVB rays. And as you probably already know, there are different levels of SPF. For instance, SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays while SPF 50 can block 99 percent of UVB rays. 


Contrary to the belief that sunscreen can prevent tanning, it does not. Most sunscreens allow some UV rays to penetrate the skin and cause melanin production. Yes, without sunscreen, your skin may tan faster, but dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen, preferably with SPF 30 or higher, when tanning in the sun. 

UV radiation can cause a host of problems, including premature aging with the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and dark spots. Of course, UV rays are also carcinogenic and increase the risk of skin cancer

So even though SPF technically does slow down the tanning process, it’s highly recommended to wear quality sunscreen with high SPF when tanning in the sun. People even wear SPF when tanning artificially, just to be safe. 

Tips to Speed Up Tanning

Do you want to get that tan quickly? Here are some tips and tricks that will help:

  • Exfoliate your skin before tanning as it helps remove dead skin cells from the top layer and prepares your body to absorb the rays or self-tanning lotion more readily. It can also prevent flaking, especially if you have dry skin. 
  • Wear a lower SPF to improve the tanning time, but you should use a minimum of SPF 30 when tanning in the sun. 
  • Bathe in the sun between noon and 2 pm as this is the peak time of the day and the sun rays are intense. 
  • Move your body frequently, so the whole body gets even exposure to the sun and tans evenly. 
  • Eat carrots as they contain beta-carotene that can naturally increase pigmentation in the skin.  
  • Self-tanning lotions and creams can help accelerate the tanning duration, so wear such lotions when sunbathing or even before and after. 
  • With tanning beds, go with lower-level and complete multiple short sessions instead of going for the more intense high-level ones. Spray tans are better and quicker, though!


So how long does it take to tan? Depending on how you’re getting your tan and skin tone, anywhere from half an hour to a full day. Lying in the sun gives you that natural tan and that too relatively quickly than some other methods. However, I recommend being cautious and using SPF 30+ when tanning in the sun. 

And if you don’t want the sun’s UV rays damaging your skin, go with a spray gun with a tanning solution, as that’s another effective way to get a tan in less than a day. Happy tanning!

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