Though there are several sub categories of tanning, in general there are two types of tanning options available: Those that use the sun to create a more permanent tan and those that use tanning products to create a temporary but safer tan. Both of these have their benefits and weaknesses, and which one you choose is largely based on your own personal preferences as well as your finances, with various risks and rewards.
Sun Tanning/Tanning Beds
Sun tanning is the most permanent option of tanning available. Though tanning itself is never permanent, a good, deep tan is going to last you quite a while, and will never be streaky, incomplete, or fake looking like some types of products. In addition, sun tanning is always free, and most tanning salons offer tanning beds for fairly cheap, making this one of the least expensive options available.
Of course the main weakness if sun tanning and tanning beds is the risk of developing skin cancer. Skin cancer can be exceedingly dangerous, and those that tan or burn are always at risk for developing the disorder. In addition, sunburns are yet another risk, and the burning can lead to peeling skin, itching, and general pain.
There are a variety of benefits to sunless tanning. First and foremost, sunless tanning does not cause any skin cancer risk, so it is considerably safer than UV tanning. Other benefits of sunless tanning include the ability to tan quickly and receive the skin color that you are looking for. Sunless tanning allows you to control the color of your skin fairly easily simply by applying certain products, while sun tanning you have to keep working on it until you develop the tan you want, which may never come.
The main weakness of sunless tanning is the temporary nature of it. Sunless tans may last as few as 3 to 10 days depending on the product you use. That means that on Wednesday you can be pale, on Friday you can be dark, and by Monday you can be pale again. That is a considerable amount of change in your appearance. The products themselves can also be pricy and time consuming, and sunless tanning products can sometimes create either a yellow/orange appearance or cause streaks in your skin from improper application.
Which is Better?
Because these two products differ so much, it is difficult to say which is better. Sun tanning certainly gives you a longer lasting, more consistent tan, but it also comes with the risks associated with skin cancer. Sunless tanning has much less risk and puts you in greater control over your tan, but does not last very long and can cause human error. Overall, which you choose is based on what you feel the risk of skin cancer is worth, how much time you have to tan, the time of year and why and when you need the tan. By answering those questions you should get a good idea for what tanning method is best for you.