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The sun emits energy in the form of electro magnetic waves. These can be differentiated into visible light, infra-red radiation, and ultra violet (UV) light. The only spectra we are concerned with is the ultra violet component. Tanning beds have been designed to only emit ultra violet radiation as this is the only component of the light spectrum that is linked to the tanning process.
There are three sub components of the uv light spectra:
UVA - this component penetrates deeper into the skin and is the component of the ultra violet spectra most responsible for the natural tanning process. For this reason tanning bed manufacturers place the largest emphasis on UVA exposure.
UVB - has a higher radioactive content than UVA waves, and primarily affects the outer layers of the skin. Sun burn comes about from overexposure to this part of the spectrum. Compared to natural ultra violet light from the sun; sun beds emit a lower amount of UVB radiation allowing for less chance of burning. That is not to say that it is not possible - sun beds emit 2-5 times more UVA than the sun and prolonged exposure will cause burning.
UVC - this is the strongest component of the spectrum and therefore the most dangerous. The Earth's atmosphere shields us from natural exposure. Tanning beds do not give any exposure to UVC.
We know that having a tan produces the euphoric "look good, feel good" sensation. Yet few people realize that uv light can be directly linked to "the feel good" aspect - the science behind this is called Heliotherapy. Experts have defined this science as the healing and treatment of disorders and diseases by simple exposure to the ultra violet component of sunlight (provided the exposure is regulated and controlled.)
The body needs a whole range of vitamins to function optimally. Vitamin D is no exception. Exposure to the UVB portion of the UV spectrum causes you skin to produce this "sunshine" vitamin.
Vitamin D is directly linked to:
What has been proven time and time again is that misery loves company - give the nation a bout of bad weather and gloomy conditions and see how it affects people's moods. Lack of sunlight (artificial and natural) can find people becoming mildly depressed, irritable, and even go as far as causing insomnia. These are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, rightly abbreviated to SAD, which is brought on by sunlight deprivation.
Skin diseases such as acne, psoriasis and eczema have also been successfully treated with UV light exposure.
Sun blocks and sunscreens can be used to reduce the exposure to ultra violet radiation. Sun blocks contain titanium dioxide which reflect light off the skin. Sunscreens contain filters that essentially absorb some of the light waves. This absorbed radiation is then re-emitted as heat.