Rashes from Tanning Bed – Causes and Treatment

There are many mixed emotions when it comes to tanning beds. Some people swear by them and use them regularly to keep up their tanning regime while others say that a tanning bed is dangerous and can cause skin cancer.

Despite these opinions, the facts are that tanning beds can do an amazing job if you want to achieve a golden-brown tan. In some cases, they are even used in phototherapy to treat psoriasis and other skin disorders.

This being said, tanning beds can cause skin irritation and even cancer if not used carefully and responsibly.

Commonly referred to as a “tanning bed rash” it will in most cases go away by itself in a few days if you treat it properly. Let delve a little deeper into tanning rashes, shall we?

In this article, we are going to talk about how a sunbed can sometimes be the cause of a rash. This rash often arises as a result of too much UV light exposure and can be extremely itchy and uncomfortable.

How Does A Tanning Bed Rash Appear on The Skin?

The most common way that a tanning bed rash appears is itchy red or white bumps on the skin.

Sometimes the rash will only start once you have come off the tanning bed and then start to spread onto other areas of the body. These itchy and uncomfortable bumps are most commonly found on the stomach, back and behind the legs.

Although a tanning bed rash is itchy and uncomfortable it will not persist for long it is treated with the right skincare products. Thereafter, you should avoid the tanning bed until the rash has cleared up completely. Typically a tanning bed rash will last for 24 to 48 hours

If, however, the bumps do not clear up and start to bleed or blister then it is a good idea to seek medical attention.

The Causes of Tanning Bed Rashes

Tanning bed rashes can be caused by many things, but most often the following would be the cause of a tanning bed rash:

Tanning Salon Hygiene

A tanning bed needs to be cleaned thoroughly after every session. If proper hygiene measures are not adhered to then the tanning bed can most certainly be the cause of a rash.

Most tanning salons ask their clients to clean the tanning bed after they have used it, but unfortunately, there may be one or two tanners that will not adhere to this rule.

Sweat mixed with tanning accelerators and other products accumulates on the tanning bed after a person has been for a session, and if the tanning bed is not cleaned and sanitized properly before the next person uses it then the tanning bed is very likely to cause a tanning bed rash.

Too Much Exposure to UV Rays

The UV rays that are emitted from a tanning bed are not the same as the rays that we get from the sun. The bulbs of a tanning bed emit both UVA and UVB rays. This seriously potent combination of UV rays can cause a rash on the body.

If you feel that you are starting to develop a rash while on the tanning bed, take a few day’s break before you go for your next session.

Having Dry Skin

If your skin is very dry, you can also get a tanning bed rash. Skin that is not properly moisturized will dry out even more when on the tanning bed and in some cases make the skin break out into an itchy rash and uncomfortable rash.

This problem is easy to overcome if you make sure to moisturize your skin properly before and after a tanning session.

Other Types of Rashes That Can Be Caused by A Tanning Bed

Heat Rash From A Tanning Bed

A heat rash is a painful and itchy rash that is slightly different from a tanning rash. A heat rash occurs when perspiration builds up between the layers of a person’s skin. This then causes redness and discomfort on the skin.

Heat rash is a relatively common occurrence and can happen anytime that a person is active and becomes hot and sweaty. A heat rash can happen at any time and not just when a person is in a tanning bed.

A heat rash is often seen around the areas where clothing is worn during the tanning session.

You can significantly prevent the chances of getting heat rash if forget the clothes and tan without clothes on altogether. Alternatively, it is advisable to shorten the amount of time between tanning sessions.

Tanning Bed Hives

Experiencing an allergic reaction to some tanning products is extremely rare but can still happen. An allergic reaction is caused by using products that are non-hypoallergenic especially on skin that is already sensitive. This mixed together with UV rays can cause a rash or tanning bed hives.

If this happens you should immediately stop using any skincare or tanning product that you feel could be triggering tanning bed hives. If the hives do not clear up in a few days medical assistance should be sought. Some allergic reactions need to be treated with a steroid cream that will be prescribed by your doctor.

Allergic Reaction Rash

If you have extremely sensitive skin, you may have an allergic reaction to the tanning bed. Heat, UV rays, perspiration, and tanning products all mixed together can trigger an allergic reaction.

In some instances, your allergic reaction could even be triggered by the type of cleaning products that are used to clean and sanitize the bed.

Due diligence needs to be practiced if you suffer from sensitive skin. Try to use only natural products when on the tanning bed and enquire with the salon owner or manager as to what products are being used to clean their tanning beds.

Better still, bring in a hypoallergenic sanitizer and clean the bed before you start with a tanning session. Make sure, however, to check with the salon owner that the product you bring with you is suitable to use on the tanning bed.


Although relatively rare, some people may suffer from a disorder otherwise photophobia which is a light sensitivity disorder. This disorder is most common in people with pale skin and blue or green eyes.

Those who suffer from this disorder have a heightened sensitivity to some types of light. If you have photophobia then tanning in a tanning bed can cause multiple side effects such as severe headache, dizziness, discomfort, and pain.

Unfortunately, a person who suffers from this disorder should not make use of a tanning bed. If you are unaware that you may have this condition and start to feel dizzy and sick during a tanning session, then it is better to stop using the tanning bed immediately and visit your doctor.

How To Treat A Tanning Bed Rash

Treating a tanning rash is relatively simple and several things can be used to ease the discomfort or itchiness.

If, however, none of these methods work, and the rash persists then it is important to seek medical assistance. Usually, however, a tanning rash will go away on its own within just a few days.

Here are some tips that should be used to prevent or alleviate the side effects of a tanning bed rash:

Stop and Rinse

As soon as you start to notice that you are getting a rash you should immediately get out of the tanning bed. Rinse your skin with water and antibacterial soap and then pat yourself dry with a soft towel.

Get Into An Oatmeal Bath

Getting into an oatmeal bath will do wonders to soothe a tanning rash. Fill the bath with water and add a few cups of oatmeal before submerging all affected areas into the water.

Keep The Affected Areas Clean

Make sure to clean the parts of the skin where the rash is at least twice a day to prevent it from becoming infected. This is especially important if the skin is broken or oozing from the site of the rash.

Make Use of Lotions

If you are experiencing an allergic reaction to the UV rays of a tanning bed, then an antihistamine cream may help to ease the rash. Many hydrocortisone creams can assist to reduce inflammation swelling and itching at the site of the rash.

As the rash starts to heal it is then time to treat your skin with a moisturizing cream to keep it hydrated and prevent it from drying out while it is trying to heal.

Stay Away From Additional UV Radiation

Tray to stay out of the sun or any other UV rays as much as possible until your rash has subsided. If you need to go out into the sun, then cover the rash with loose-fitting clothing and wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

Natural Remedies for A Sunbed Rash

There are many natural ways to treat a Tanning Rash without using creams or other products that contain manmade chemicals.

  • Water, water, and more water. Drinking water is good for the whole body and can be used to soothe irritation and add sufficient hydration to the cells of the skin.
  • The natural components of cucumber, apple cider vinegar, and Aloe Vera are extremely hydrating and cooling on the skin. These are ideal to use when treating a tanning rash.
  • Olive oil is a brilliant moisturizing agent. Keeping your skin properly hydrated with olive oil will prevent the tanning rash from getting any worse.
  • Yogurt can be used as a cream to soothe a tanning rash, especially in those people who already battle with sensitive skin.
  • A potato is a wonderful way in which you can reduce any inflammation, pain, and itching at the site of your tanning rash.

If home remedies, however, do not take the rash away then you will need to visit your doctor to get a hydrocortisone cream or antihistamine.

Preventing A Tanning Bed Rash

As has been said many times before “Prevention is better than the cure”. If you want to prevent yourself from getting a nasty tanning bed rash then you should make sure that you consider the following factors:

1.      Choose A Salon Carefully

It is best to find a reputable tanning salon that cleans and sanitizes their tanning beds effectively after every use. It is also a good idea to have a look at the tanning bed and see if it is well looked after.

A tanning bed that looks like it is in disrepair is more than likely not being looked after or cleaned properly.

2.      Put On Sunscreen in the Tanning Bed

Most people seem to think that you will not tan if you apply sunscreen. This is a myth! You will still tan if you apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen before you get onto the tanning bed.

If you want to achieve a golden tan instead of a painful red sunburn or tanning bed rash then it is a good idea to put on a light sunscreen before your tanning bed session.

3.      Start Slow

If you are relatively new to tanning beds, then you should start with shorter sessions of no longer than 15 minutes so that your skin is able to adapt better to the UV rays over time.

It is important to let your skin get used to the UV rays that the tanning bed bulbs emit over some time to avoid any type of tanning bed rash.

4.      Clean The Tanning Bed Yourself

There is absolutely nothing wrong with giving the sunbed an extra clean with the sanitizer that has been provided by the salon. It is better to be safe than to be sorry, and although the bed may look clean you never know how well it was cleaned by the last person that used it.

5.      Don’t Use New Products Before Your Tanning Bed Session

Putting on new products or creams before you start your tanning sessions is a bad idea. The reason for this is that some lotions or accelerators may cause an allergic reaction if you have not used them before.

It is also advisable to get your skin used to the UV rays by doing a few sessions without using tan accelerators or other products.

6.      A Stand-Up Tanning Bed is Best

A tanning salon will usually have a variety of sunbeds to choose from. While many tanners prefer to lie down and relax while they are tanning, it is better to use a stand-up bed if you are prone to skin rashes.

Other Ways To Tan

A tanning bed is not the only way in which to get tanned skin. Some people may find that using a tanning bed is simply not for them. There are other ways in which to achieve a tan without having to use a tanning bed.

Natural Sunlight

Natural sunlight does not emit as much UV light as a sunbed does, but if you want a natural-looking tan, then lying in the sun with a low factor SPF regularly will make your skin brown.

Remember that if you tend to burn easily then do not go into the sun doing peak hours and find a spot in the shade as soon as you start to feel your skin burning.

Self- Tanners

These are tanning products that give you a tan without having to sit in the sun. These sunless tanners are sold as sprays, lotions, or mousse and can be applied to your skin from the comfort of your own home.

These self-tanners contain Dihydroxyacetone (DHA). When the DHA is applied to the skin it reacts with the surface layer of the skin causing it to temporarily darken and give the body a tanned look. These sunless self-tanning products usually last for a few days.

Spray Tan

For those that do not want any UV rays to penetrate through their skin at all then a spray tan is also a good option to get a tan.

A spray tan is a form of sunless tanning where a fine mist is sprayed all over their body at the same time in a tanning booth.

The main ingredient in a spray tan is DHA which is the same chemical found in other tanning DIY products. This chemical mixes with the chemistry of the skin to turn the skin brown.

Unfortunately, this way of tanning is not permanent and but does last anywhere from five to ten days.


It is important to take into consideration that tanning bed rashes are extremely preventable when a tanning bed is used responsibly.

The best way to take control of the situation and try to avoid getting a tanning rash is to stop tanning in the tanning bed immediately if your skin starts to feel bumpy or itchy.

This being said, tanning rashes are in most cases harmless and will disappear in a few days. Once the rash has subsided you can then carry on with your tanning bed regime.