The Chemistry of Tanning Beds


    • Tanning beds are used by people, male or female, that emits ultraviolet radiation from lamps to produce a cosmetic tan rather than a suntan. Tanning beds attract many people from models, bikini competitors, and to teenagers. I have used a tanning bed before for school dances, and I have always wondered the cause and effect of doing so. The time limit and type of bed is effectively something to always learn more about, also!Composition of ...UVA and UVB ultraviolet radiation lamps
    • Choke Ballasts
    • Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) (C3H6O3)- coats the skin with a faux glow
    • Mercury (20 Mg)- produces plasma inside the lamp
    • Phosphorus
    • A Base
    • Lead-in-wires
    • The stem press
    • Exhaust tube
    • Fill gas
    • Tanning bed acrylics

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Ultraviolet Lamps (UVA/UVB)-

    • How: The tanning bed is laid out with lamps on the inside of the bed.
    • What: about 95% UVA and 5% UVB ultraviolet lamps.
    • When: Placed before the protective acrylics.
    • Where: German medical company, Heraeus, in 1903, but introduced in 1978 by Friedrich Wolff.
    • Why: Heraeus researched this study of lamps to help patients with Vitamin D deficiencies. Wolff used tanning lamps to study effects and potential benefits of sunlight on athletes. Being tan was only a side effect.

Choke Ballasts-

    • How: Inside of the tanning bed.
    • What: Inductor that limits the amount of currents passing through the lamps.
    • When: Placed on the outside top cover of a tanning bed beneath the start/stop timer.
    • Where: GE Schenectady lab aided help, but The Transformer Engineering Department In Fort Wayne, Indiana developed ballasts.
  • Why: EMF is emitted from the ballasts of the fluorescent lamps which controls the power sent to the lamps.

Chemistry's Role

Ultraviolet light is a naturally occurring component of sunlight. It is in the region of visible light and X-Rays in the electromagnetic spectrum. German physicist Johann Wilhelm Ritter observed that invisible rays just beyond the violet end of the visible spectrum darkened silver chloride-soaked paper more quickly than violet light itself. A fluorescent lamp is a long glass gas discharge tube. Its inner surface is coated with phosphorous and is filled with an inert gas, usually mercury. The tube is sealed at low pressure with two filament electrodes at each end. That energy from the electrodes also changes some of the mercury from a liquid to a glass.

Background Research

Places like Brazil, Canada, and the European Union have banned tanning beds for minors. There are pros and cons to using a tanning bed though. You increase your risk of getting cancer. Skin cancers that have relationship with the squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma can be transferred from tanning beds. Also ocular melanoma can occur, which is an eye cancer. They also cause a lack of elasticity to the skin, leading to wrinkles. Tanning beds can increase Vitamin D levels in a person which is a benefit.


Information about the faux glow that coats the skin with DHA (dihydroxyacetone).

Information about choke ballasts, the phosphors and Mercury inside lamps, and proper spectrum for tanning.

Information about melanocytes and the seven main parts of a tanning lamp.

Information about Vitamin D production and safety with goggles and time.

Information about the placement, cost, and cleaning of tanning bed acrylics.

Information about the cost of bulbs and time range in hours of lamp life.

Information about the development of ballasts.

Information on how to change a tanning bed choke ballast.

Information on how UV light is a naturally occurring component of sunlight.

Information about choke ballasts themselves.

Information about the pros and cons of using a tanning bed

About the Author

Lindsey Collett is a Junior at Billings Senior High School. She likes to laugh 24/7, but can be shy and awkward. She is also very independent. Lindsey’s hobbies include enjoying the class Lifetime Skills, bowling, hanging out with friends and family, tubing, reading, and eating the rice at Panda Express. Her future goals are to attend college, but she is still undecided on what she wants to study.