Tanning beds can be a good source of vitamin D when sunlight isn’t available (such as because of work or winter).
If you wish to get vitamin D from tanning beds there are a few important things to consider.
First, you will want to look for a low-pressure, traditional tanning bed. These types of tanning beds emit a ratio of ultraviolet A/ultraviolet B wavelengths similar to the sun.
Second, you will want to treat the tanning bed as if you are getting real sun exposure. That is, you will only need to expose yourself under a tanning bed for 15-20 minutes if you are very light skinned, or up to an hour if you have very dark skin. You do not need to get a tan from tanning beds to produce adequate vitamin D.
Good comment Jeff. Probably worth noting that the amount of time you should exposure yourself is dictated by the intensity of the tanning bed. While the spectrum of a tanning bed is similar to the sun – the intensity is not (1 hour in a tanning bed is probably = 2 to 3 hours in the sun). Therefore the amount of time needed in a tanning bed is about ½ to 1/3 of what you need outside. It is tough for me to be an advocate for tanning beds because it is easy to get over exposed and the industry has moved further away from the spectrum that produces D.
That’s a good point. In situations of sun exposure, our rule of thumb is that you want to expose yourself for about half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink. It is hard to apply that to tanning beds as they are designed so you only tan, not burn.
I also understand your feelings towards advocating tanning beds. It is so important to keep in mind that tanning beds should be treated as if you are getting sun exposure. Keeping in mind what Rhennessey said, you may have to be even more aware of your time under tanning bed to be sure you are getting safe, sensible exposure to produce a good amount of vitamin D.
While we would recommend sun exposure and supplementation before tanning beds, they can be a good option for those who have a more difficult time getting outside or don’t wish to use supplements.