How Long Does it Take to Tan?

If you are planning a day out in the sun, one of the questions that might come to your mind is how long does it take to tan? While a lot of factors can influence tanning time, such as skin type, sunscreen application, and intensity of sunlight, this article will give you a comprehensive guide on what to expect.

Factors That Affect Tanning Time

Skin Type

The amount of melanin in your skin determines your skin type. People with fair skin usually have less melanin and, therefore, burn easily. On the other hand, people with darker skin have more melanin and can tolerate more extended periods of sun exposure.

Sunscreen Application

Sunscreen protects the skin from harmful UV rays and reduces the risk of sunburn and skin damage. However, applying sunscreen can delay the tanning process or prevent it altogether.

Intensity of Sunlight

The sun’s intensity varies depending on the time of day, location, and season. During peak hours, when the sun is high in the sky, the UV rays are stronger and can lead to sunburn and skin damage.

How long does it take to tan outside?

The time it takes to tan outside depends on several factors. Here’s a general guideline based on skin types:

Fair Skin (Type I and II)

If you have very fair or light skin that burns easily and rarely tans, you should exercise caution when spending time in the sun. It may take as little as 10 to 30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure to start getting a sunburn. For tanning, it’s best to limit your sun exposure and use sunscreen with a high SPF. Tanning can take several hours over multiple days.

Light to Medium Skin (Type III and IV)

Individuals with light to medium skin can typically tolerate more sun exposure than fair-skinned people before burning. It may take around 20 to 45 minutes to start developing a tan, and you can gradually increase your time in the sun to deepen your tan.

Olive to Dark Skin (Type V and VI)

People with olive or dark skin have more melanin, which provides natural protection against the sun. They can spend longer periods in the sun without burning. It may take 45 minutes to 2 hours or more to start tanning, depending on the skin type.

In fact, the time it takes to tan can also vary based on the time of day and geographical location. Sunlight is generally strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you’re tanning earlier or later in the day, it may take longer to achieve a tan.

How to Estimate your tanning time

To determine how long it will take to tan, you need to consider your skin type, the intensity of sunlight, and your sunscreen application. Once you have these factors in mind, you can use the following steps to estimate your tanning time:

  • Start by spending 10-15 minutes in the sun without sunscreen.
  • Check your skin after the initial exposure. If your skin turns red or starts to feel tender, you may have been in the sun for too long.
  • If there are no signs of burning, stay in the sun for an additional 10-15 minutes.
  • Repeat the process for several days and gradually increase your time in the sun, but don’t exceed two hours per day.

How to tan faster

If you want to achieve a quicker tan, it can help you minimize sun exposure and reduce potential harm from UV rays. However, it’s important to note that getting a “base tan” does not lower the risk of sunburn or skin damage. Furthermore, it’s advisable to avoid sunless tanning pills as they are deemed unsafe by both the Mayo Clinic and the Food and Drug Administration. Follow these tips to achieve a tan more efficiently:

  • Tanning is most effective when the sun’s UVB rays are at their strongest, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. 
  • Exfoliating your skin before tanning can help remove dead skin cells and create a smoother surface for tanning
  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to areas that you want to protect, like your face, and reapply it every two hours.
  • To ensure an even tan, rotate and flip your body regularly. This helps to expose all areas of your skin to the sun. Avoid staying in one position for too long.
  • Consume beta-carotene-rich foods like carrots for a natural skin darkening effect, and add lycopene-rich options such as tomatoes, tomato paste, and watermelon to enhance UV ray protection (but remember to use SPF as well).

Tanning Beds vs. Natural Sunlight

Tanning beds have gained popularity due to their convenience and accessibility. However, they differ from natural sunlight in several ways. Here’s how they compare:

Tanning Time

Tanning beds use UV light to simulate sunlight and stimulate melanin production. This means that you can achieve a tan faster than you would in natural sunlight.

Skin Damage

While tanning beds offer quicker results, they can also be more harmful to the skin. The intensity of UV rays emitted by tanning beds is higher than that of natural sunlight, making them more likely to cause skin damage.

Safety Precautions

Regardless of whether you choose to tan naturally or use a tanning bed, it is crucial to take safety precautions. Always wear sunscreen and limit your exposure time to avoid damaging your skin.


  1. Can I tan without the sun? Yes, you can achieve a tan without the sun by using self-tanning products such as lotions, sprays, and creams. These products contain DHA, which reacts with the skin’s surface to produce a temporary tan.
  2. How long does it take to see results from self-tanners? Results from self-tanners may vary depending on the product and individual skin type. However, most products start to show results within a few hours to a day after application.
  3. Is it possible to tan in the shade? While shade provides some protection from UV rays, it is still possible to tan. However, it may take longer than tanning in direct sunlight.
  4. Can I use tanning oils instead of sunscreen? No, tanning oils do not provide adequate protection against UV rays. Instead, they enhance the tanning process by attracting more sunlight to the skin. It is still crucial to apply sunscreen before applying tanning oil to prevent damage to the skin.
  5. Can I tan in a swimming pool or beach? Yes, it is possible to get a tan while swimming in a pool or relaxing at the beach. However, be sure to apply waterproof sunscreen and reapply after each swim to maintain protection.