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how to tan if you're fat

Being on the bigger side doesn’t mean that you have to give up things like tanning or feeling confident in your skin. The tanning industry is worth nearly $5 billion each year in the United States alone. It’s clearly something that people are taking advantage of to keep a bronzed glow all year round and it isn’t something that you have to give up when you’re plus-sized.

So, what’s the best way to tan when you’re fat?

You can tan in a traditional bed or stand-up tanning bed, tan naturally in the sun, get a spray tan, or use a tinted moisturizer. As you use each of these methods, you’ll want to be sure you get those white areas and areas where your skin folds over for an all-over glow.

Below, we’ll take a look at the different methods on how to tan when you’re fat. We’ll go over some considerations as you decide what works best for you and I’ll provide some tips for each of the methods, so no matter how you choose to go for that bronzed skin you’ll look your best.

How to Tan in a Tanning Bed When You’re Fat

Tanning beds use bulbs that emit UVA rays that bronze the skin. The rays are very intense, so tanning sessions usually don’t last too long. Let’s jump right in and discuss some of the things you’ll want to do while using a tanning bed and what you should consider before you get started.

Do Your Research

Before you decide to use a tanning bed, it’s worth doing the research and deciding if it’s your best option. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, even a single indoor tanning session increases your risk of skin cancer. Specifically, it increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma by 67%, basal cell carcinoma by 29%, and melanoma by 20%.

The risk comes from the ultraviolet radiation emitted from sun lamps and tanning beds. According to this study, the risk of skin cancer increases in people who started tanning at a younger age. Furthermore, ultraviolet radiation causes DNA damage to the skin that advances the aging process and causes wrinkles.

Several studies have also taken a closer look at tanning and addiction. In addition to having a high prevalence among people who smoke, drink, or use illicit drugs, people who tan have a higher prevalence of anxiety and depression,

Now, forgoing tanning beds doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to give up the goal of a sun-kissed glow. Spray tanning doesn’t use ultraviolet rays at all and some people lay out in the sun to build their tan. Using a tinted moisturizer or self-tanner is something else you could try.

I did offer a few tips here for people that decide the benefit outweighs the risk below. If tanning alternatives for overweight people interest you, skip ahead to the next section.

Lift Your Skin to Tan “White Spots” the Last 5-10 Minutes

If you are going to tan, you’ll want all-over color. As someone who has a few rolls, one of the biggest obstacles is tanning the area of skin that folds in, as well as areas like underneath my breasts. For a better, more even tan, you’ll want to put your arms over your head and stretch, helping spread your skin out so you tan. You can also lift areas like your breasts or folds in your tummy to get the whiter areas.

Target these areas for the last 5-10 minutes of your tanning session. Most of these areas don’t get a lot of sun anyway and you’ll want to build color more slowly so you tan instead of burn in these sensitive areas.

Is There a Weight Limit for Tanning Beds?

Weight limits and tanning beds have been a hot topic in the news lately, ever since an Ohio woman was turned away from a salon for weighing 230 pounds. You can check out that news story in this video.

The whole dilemma has people talking and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from bigger men and women that have gone to the tanning salon.

From my research, it really comes down to the model of tanning bed and how thick the acrylic (that’s the material that you lay on) is. While smaller models top out around 250 pounds, it’s not uncommon for salons to have models that support 400+ pounds. If it’s something you’re worried about, call the tanning salon before you go and see if they have a weight limit.

Consider a Vertical Bed

Stand-up tanning beds are another alternative you can ask about. Think just like the average tanning bed- only the bed is vertical instead of horizontal. This means there isn’t really a weight limit since you don’t have to lay down on acrylic or any other material.

Shift Your Body Gently

Another pro-tip is to avoid putting your knee down on the acrylic as you get on and off the bed. Even people who weigh less than 150 pounds can break the acrylic on a tanning bed if they concentrate their weight in one area. Instead of sitting up or placing your knees, hands, feet, or elbow and applying pressure, you’ll want to move gently and try to keep your weight distributed evenly as you move on and off the bed.

How to Tan in the Sun When You’re Heavy

If you decide to get your sun from a more natural route, these tips for tanning in the sun when your plus-sized will help you get that perfect, sun-kissed glow.

Rock Your Beach Body or Tan Somewhere Private

One of the reasons plus-sized people may shy away from tanning at the beach or by the pool is because they don’t feel confident laying out with small pieces of cloth covering their sensitive areas. However, being on the bigger side is more common than ever before and there’s many people who prefer the plus-sized lifestyle. There’s no reason to be ashamed of your body and if you’re still a little nervous consider tanning with a friend.

For the best all-over-tan, you’re going to want to show some skin. If you aren’t comfortable doing this in a public area, sun tanning on your deck or in a fenced in back yard might be another option. As long as you are comfortable though, there’s no reason not to lay out by the pool or on the beach and catch some rays. You can also bring along a cover-up or a swim shirt if you don’t feel as confident walking to the water or your car after sunning.

Avoid Sun During Peak Hours

Even though the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. are the times when the sun is closest, it is also the time that sunbathing is most dangerous. While this means that you’ll tan faster, it also means you’re exposed to more of the sun’s UV rays. If you do go out during this time, you should always wear sun protection since you’re more likely to tan than you are to burn.

Eat Foods with Lycopene to Boost Your Tan

Something else that you can do to boost your skin’s tan is eat some foods with lycopene, which is most prominent in tomatoes (particularly tomato sauces and pastes, rather than fresh tomatoes). It’s also found in vegetables and fruits that are yellow, orange, and red in color like blood oranges, watermelon, and bell pepper. Lycopene is beneficial for the skin because it’s a special type of antioxidant that fights against UV damage and free radicals, including those that cause cancer.

Additionally, research shows lycopene helps prevent uneven coloration of the skin and texture changes, including fine lines and wrinkles that are more likely in people who tan. You can learn more about foods you can eat to protect your skin when tanning here.

Use a Tanning Lotion with SPF Protection

One common myth regarding the sun is that a sunburn will turn into a tan. Burning your skin damages the top layers and even results in peeling sometimes. The best way to get a tan without burning is by protecting your skin. Try a tanning lotion that has at least SPF 30 protection, which is strong enough to prevent burns and exposure to UVA and UVB rays, but also lets some sunshine permeate your skin.

Shift Position Frequently

As a plus-sized person, it’s important that you shift frequently while lying in the sun to get all your rolls and other areas. Don’t be afraid to stretch or lift as needed to get tan wherever you need it. You should also be sure to wear clothes that will make it easier to get your tan. For example, try out a strapless top if you don’t want tan lines on your shoulders.

Try Tanning Every Other Day

According to recent research, one of the best ways to get a deep tan is actually to tan every other day. Waiting a day between tans gives your skin a chance to regenerate new cells and heal itself. As skin re-builds, it becomes darker to protect you from the sun. Once healed, tanning again promotes a darker, deeper color. This is similar to the way that the muscles need a day of rest to re-build themselves between intense workouts.

How to Get a Spray Tan When You’re Plus Sized

Spray tanning is a great alternative for people who want the benefits of a glow without the increased risk of skin cancer and advanced aging that come along with sunning outdoors or in a tanning bed. Spray tans usually contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a by-product of sugar that is made using a fermentation process. They interact with your outermost skin cells and help turn them a bronzed color. DHA is generally considered safe, though you should avoid contact with your eyes and try not to inhale the spray during your session.

Start by Exfoliating

Exfoliating removes the dead skin cells sitting on top of your skin that are going to flake off anyway. The skin is your largest organ and it’s constantly renewing itself. When you exfoliate before your spray tan, you’re getting rid of those cells you’ll lose anyway over the next week or two. This helps the color of your spray tan seep deeper and last longer. Additionally, it’s really helpful for getting an even color.

Moisturize Extra Dry Areas of Skin

One of the reasons that people get patches of skin that look “dirty” after a tan is because areas of dry skin absorb more color from the spray tan because of how dry it is. You shouldn’t moisturize all over, since the oiliness of moisturizer blocks a lot of the color from your tan. What you should do, however, is moisturize areas like your elbows, neck, or cleavage if they are extra dry to stop the color from concentrating there.

Don’t Be Afraid to Show Your Skin

People who are on the bigger side might not feel as confident or comfortable walking into a salon and getting into a bathing suit (or their birthday suit) for their spray tan. This can make the whole ordeal feel embarrassing, especially if you choose the type of spray tan where someone does it for you instead of doing it yourself.

I find that the fake-it-til-you-make-it approach works best in this scenario. Even if you feel uncomfortable, you shouldn’t feel like you deserve to be pampered any less. You also shouldn’t accept less coverage with your spray tan because you’re worried about how you’ll feel once your top comes off and your body is exposed. If you do still feel embarrassed, consider making friends with someone else who enjoys spray tans and make a day of it!

Pay Attention to Spray Patterns

Your skin is going to feel chilly when the sprayer comes across it. If anywhere feels warm or dry, you’ll want to spray that area again. You’ll also need to bend or lift as needed to get those areas of skin that might be hidden by your rolls or breasts. Again, if you do go the option of having someone else spray you like I did, remember that the person at the tanning salon is a professional and they’ve seen plenty of bodies like yours. There’s no reason to be embarrassed! Some salons even have step stools to help get even coverage over areas like your thighs.

Follow Proper After-Care

Spray tan is something that can be removed if you don’t give it time to properly absorb into the skin. While you should avoid showering for at least 4-6 hours, it’s even better if you wait overnight. The odor of spray tan can be a little much at times, but you will want to wait if at all possible. Additionally, be sure to sleep on top of a sheet and use blankets that are darker in color, or that you don’t mind getting a little dirty.

You should also avoid scrubbing at your spray tan with a loofah or exfoliating scrub, since this can slough away the skin cells that the tanner has attached to. Instead, opt for a soft wash cloth or just wash your body using a gentle cleanser and your hands.

Touch Up with Self-Tanner or a Tinted Moisturizer

Even when you pay attention to spray patterns, it’s possible for a spot or two to be missed when applying a spray tan. If you do have areas that are missed, you can fix it before your next session with a self-tanner. Just try to match the colors as closely as you can. This will help you get more even color at your next tanning session, too!

How to Use Self-Tanner When You’re Fat

Tinted moisturizer has the benefit of giving you that glow without the sun’s rays and some people find it’s more convenient or comfortable than getting a spray tan. It’s also something that you can build up over time, so it’s easier to get the exact color you want without the risk of going overboard.

Do a Test Area

You don’t want to just dive right in with the first self-tanner that you find. Instead, put a small spot on an indiscreet area of your skin, rub it in, and wait to see what shade it becomes. Self-tanners come in a wide variety of colors. Some also might offer better, more even coverage than others. Using customer reviews is a great way to decide if a self-tanner is worth a try. Beyond that, it’s all about deciding which brand and shade will work best for you.

Take a Shower, Exfoliate, and Moisturize if Necessary

Like when using sunless tanner, exfoliating first is an important step because it makes your tan last a lot longer. Additionally, you should moisturize your dry areas like you would when getting a spray tan so that you get even color, rather than dirty looking spots.

Another way to make your at-home sunless tanner last longer is to shower before applying. When you shower with warm water, it opens up your pores and makes them more absorbent. Instead of drying with a towel, give yourself a few minutes to air dry and apply the tanner before getting dressed.

Don’t Forget the Sun Protection

Even when you are bronzed from your tanner, it’s important that you apply sunscreen before going outside. Self-tanner reacts with your outermost skin cells. They will fall off over time because it doesn’t penetrate the skin too deeply. Even though skin is darker, that does not make it more resistant to burning underneath. It’s recommended to wear a sunscreen that provides protection rated at least at SPF 30. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat can also help keep sun off sensitive areas like your face, neck, and chest, where signs of aging and sun exposure are most apparent.

Benefits of Tanning for Overweight People

Besides the obvious benefit of a bronzed glow and feeling more confident in your skin, research shows there’s actually health benefits for bigger people that tan. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Tanning Gives You a Slimmer Appearance

While the jury is still out on whether tanning can actually make you slimmer (you can learn more about brown fat and white fat and the theories behind that here), tanning does give you a slimmer appearance. This comes down to the way that we perceive color. Darker skin makes cellulite, blemishes, scars, and imperfections a lot less apparent. This gives your skin a smoother, healthier look.

Tanning Makes You Feel More Confident

If you feel good with a healthy glow, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t rock one. Many people find having that tan appearance makes them feel great in the summer and even all year round. After all, there’s no reason you can’t hit the salon or use some sunless tanner in the winter months, too!

Tanning Boosts Your Levels of Vitamin D

With sun tanning one of the biggest benefits is that the rays from the sun help your body synthesize Vitamin D. Tanning beds do not offer this same benefit, since they emit mostly UVA rays and your body needs UVB rays to make Vitamin D. Therefore, your best bet for a Vitamin D boost is to get it naturally from the sunshine.

Vitamin D is well-known for it’s benefits for healthy bones and teeth. However, it also plays many other critical roles in the body and keeping good levels of vitamin D prevents certain diseases and conditions, including skin ailments like eczema, cognitive health decline, bone conditions, and even certain cancers.

Final Word

Being plus-sized doesn’t mean that you have to give up your goals for a healthy, sun-kissed go. Whether you choose the traditional route of tanning at the salon, opt for a spray tan, tan outside, or go for a self-less tanner, you should now know how to tan when you’re fat.

Do you know any tips I may have forgot to mention? Have any of these methods worked in the past? As always, I’d love to hear your feedback!

Camila R.

Camila is a body positive blogger and fat activist that's focused on helping people of all sizes live life big! That means accepting yourself at any size and just enjoying life! She lives in New Mexico with her husband and two chihauhuas.

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