Complaints about lamp performance (new or existing lamps) don't happen often, but when they do, the problem is almost never the lamps themselves. This article was created to help salon owners understand what they can do to increase the performance of their tanning beds and extend the useable life of their lamps. The tips found here may not always seem intuitive, but they are based on 25 years experience with over 1 million lamps, including exhaustive research and testing in multiple laboratory settings.

The most common reasons that tanning lamps do not perform as expected are temperature, acrylic condition and cooling system related. Before assuming your lamps need replacing, we suggest you try the following methods first.

1. Temperature affects tanning lamp performance in dramatic ways.
Although the visible light coming from a tanning lamp is only slightly reduced when the air around the lamp is very cool (or very hot), the ultraviolet output is cut exponentially. This is common to all UV lights, regardless of manufacturer. This is also why the FDA requires recertifying tanning equipment if a manufacturer changes the design of the cooling system for a model of tanning bed. The graph below loosely demonstrates this.

How temperature affects UV performance

This is based on the temperature of the air around the lamp itself, not the temperature where the clients are tanning, which is always different. The vast majority of complaints about performance occur in the winter time, when the average room temperature is already lower, compounded by the fact that fewer people are tanning, making the tanning bed much cooler, thus reducing the tanning power of the system.

To test and see if this is the reason your tanning bed is not performing up to par, you should try this method: Place a space heater in the tanning bed room for a few hours, and bring the ambient temperature up to at least 80 degrees. Once the room is fully heated, allow the tanning bed to run for a full session to heat up to normal operating temperature. Use the tanning bed. If the results are more inline with your expectation, then you can assume that the problem is temperature related. This is the most common result. Otherwise, consider the other options below.

Keep in mind that the inverse is true as well. In the summer time, a tanning bed that is used constantly in a room that is too hot due to insufficient air conditioning in your salon will also have reduced output, although this is much less common. The perfect temperature around a tanning lamp is from 90 to 110 degrees, which is difficult to obtain in the winter without preheating tanning beds.

2. Cleaning your acrylics is not enough.
Ultraviolet is very easy to block. Put on some sunscreen to prove this point: You can't see it but it is blocking over 90% of ultraviolet rays. Most clear plastics block ultraviolet, but your tanning bed acrylics are made out of a special plastic (acrylic) that transmits most, but not all, ultraviolet rays to the tanner. The disadvantage of acrylic is that it breaks down easily, so even if it looks perfectly clear, it could be blocking 10% to 40% of the UV that the tanning lamps are creating. You need to recondition your acrylics every 200 to 400 hours of use. Fortunately, this is inexpensive and relatively easy.

We recommend using Novus #2 on your acrylics every 200 to 400 hours of use. For salon owners, this is 2 to 4 times per year. For home tanning beds, this is typically every 1 to 2 years. We sell this as an individual product (well under $10) and it comes as a standard part of our SunMaster Tanning Bed Rebuild Kit . You can also buy this product from a variety of other sources, as it is commonly used to recondition everything from motorcycle windshields to acrylic aquariums. It is a slightly gritty compound that is applied to both sides of both acrylics, in a similar fashion to waxing a car. The goal is to strip a microlayer of the acrylic off, revealing fresh material that is more transparent to ultraviolet. Fields tests have demonstrated this will increase the ultraviolet output of a tanning bed from 10% to 40%, making it the single most cost effective way to increase your tanning bed's performance.

We also recommend using Novus #1 weekly, a pump spray polish, to help keep your acrylics in top condition. Using both of these products has the added benefit of making your tanning bed easier to clean.

3. Never use household chemicals on your acrylics
This is a common problem with home tanning beds. Not only do household chemicals cost significantly more than the recommended acrylic disinfectant, but they can cause your acrylics to block ultraviolet, do damage to your acrylics over time, cause skin reactions, and they don't kill germs.

Only use approved cleaners

A bottle of EPA registered disinfectant that makes up to 16 gallons of solution is around $11 and can be purchased from a variety of sources. Only use a disinfectant made specifically for tanning beds. If you have been using any household chemical, you need to completely resurface your tanning bed acrylics to undue any potential damage this has caused in order to restore them to adequate performance.

4. Check your cooling system
The cooling fans in a tanning bed play an important part in its performance. The cooling system is designed to allow the system to maintain a steady temperature once the system is in use. If the vent holes are clogged with dust, or if one or more of the cooling fans are non-operational, it will reduce the performance of the tanning bed dramatically. You should visibly inspect all fans while the tanning bed is operating and clean all vent holes in the tanning bed to insure the system is ventilating properly. Replace any fans that are defective. Not only will a defective fan make the tanning bed perform poorly, but it will cause other more expensive parts to fail as they are not designed to operate in a hotter environment. Keep in mind that a tanning bed may be only warm where you lie to tan, yet 150 degrees or more inside the tanning lamp chamber itself. Cooling fan replacements cost less than $20 each.

Final note:
You should regularly clean the inside of your tanning bed, including the reflectors. Recondition the acrylics using Novus #2 at the same time, remembering to condition both sides of both acrylics. Remove and wipe off each tanning lamp and inspect the cooling system. A thin layer of dust is enough to block a significant amount of ultraviolet, causing you to have to stay longer in your tanning bed to achieve the same results. This wastes electricity and uses up lamp life. It can also save you the expense of more costly repairs if a cooling fan failure has gone unnoticed. This should be done 2 to 4 times per year for salons, once every year or two for home tanning beds. Spending an hour every so often with this basic maintenance will insure you tanning bed will last longer, while delivering up to 40% better performance.

Get the most out of your tanning lamps