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Tanning Bed 101: A Beginner's Guide

Updated on October 10, 2017

Are You Considering Indoor Tanning?

With bathing suit season well underway, many people will be going to their local tanning salon to get a bronzed body before hitting the beach. But what if you have never been in a tanning bed before? What do beginners need to consider?

Before going tanning, I recommend making an informed decision about whether or not the pros outweigh the cons. Many experts claim that there are too many risks, and tanning beds should be reserved for medicinal purposes only. Others claim that the benefits far outweigh any risks.

I encourage everyone to at least be aware of the risks, informed about the benefits, and do a little research on their own so that they can make an informed decision regarding tanning beds.

Benefits of Tanning Beds

  • a convenient tan
  • self-treatment of eczema
  • self-treatment of psoriasis
  • self-treatment of seasonal affective disorder
  • tanning provides a supply of vitamin D, which can help prevent several cancers such as breast and colon cancer

Risks of Tanning Beds

  • skin cancer (studies have been done that link tanning beds to skin cancer and show that they increase the risk of skin cancer by 75% and melanoma by 20%)
  • premature aging
  • wrinkles
  • damaged immune system
  • eye damage, such as cataracts and blindness

Tips for Those Who Have Never Tanned Before

If you still want to go tanning even after knowing the risks, that's fine. I enjoy tanning, and I also find it very relaxing. Going tanning for the first time can bring up a lot of questions, such as should you use tanning lotions, do you need to wear protective eyewear, and what bed to use. The people who work in tanning salons can usually help you with any unanswered questions you may have, but still, it's smart to do your own research.

The first time I went tanning, I asked the woman working for a little advice regarding which lotion to use. I also inquired about what the difference was between the lotions. I had no idea what a "bronzer" was and didn't know what the words and ingredients written on the bottle meant. She said that all of them were pretty great, and it really didn't matter. Yep. All thirty lotions displayed in front of me were "great."

Needless to say, I spent thirty dollars on a lotion that was a great moisturizer but did not help with my color at all. Three weeks later, I had silky soft skin that was still really pale in color. This is why it's a good idea to know a little bit before you go to a tanning salon. You never know how informed the employees are.

Ideas for What to Wear

  • nothing (go naked)
  • a bathing suit
  • underwear
  • tanning stickers (these can tell you how much darker your color gets, and can make a pretty temporary tattoo)

What Do You Wear?

Some people are absolutely appalled at the mere thought of laying in a tanning bed naked, especially knowing that someone else lay in that tanning bed naked. Others could care less and trust their tanning salon to sanitize properly the bed before they get into it.

So what (if anything) should you wear? There are a lot of different views on this particular question, and it all comes down to one very simple answer: wear whatever you are comfortable in. If you wear your bathing suit every time, you will have tan lines that reflect that, but that's your choice.

Do You Have to Wear Protective Eyewear?

Excessive amounts of UV exposure to your eyes can result in damage to the eye itself, the retina, and can cause cataracts and even blindness. I have read stories of people that have gone blind their first time in a tanning bed. While that is not a likely outcome, if you opt away from protective eyewear, it is a possibility.

Simply closing your eyes or putting a towel over them does not provide enough protection to prevent damage to your eyes. Many tanning salons provide disposable protective eyewear for one-time use that stick to the area around your eye to provide protection.

Buying tanning goggles is another option. Many of these have a string that wraps around the back of your head to ensure that they do not move while tanning.

Many tanning salons do not check to see if you have protective eyewear before you go tanning, and no one is going to follow you into a tanning bed to ensure that you are wearing them. Protecting your eyesight is your responsibility.

How Long Should You Go Tanning and What Type of Bed Should You Use?

How long you should go tanning depends on your skin type. The tanning salon will have you fill out some paperwork and determine your skin type. They should be able to help you with this decision (but still, you should do your own research).

If you burn extremely easily, you may want to start out only going five minutes in a Level One or Two tanning bed. The tanning salon that I go to only has one Level One bed, and often they recommend people use a Level Two. I, personally, started out going seven minutes in a Level Two bed and did fine. If five minutes does not give you a burn, you can try to go seven minutes the next time, and consistently add two minutes at a time. If you notice that you are starting to burn, wait an extra day or so before returning to the tanning bed. Trust me, it is possible to tan with out getting burnt.

Tanning salons offer different levels of beds as well as different types of tanning beds. The levels determine the amount of UV rays and therefore how quickly you will tan. These levels start out at Level 1 and go up to Level 4. Different types of beds include a lying-down bed, a stand-up bed, and even one that has a strip of tanning bulbs down one side to help tan your sides.

There is no particular bed that is better than another, it all depends on what you like. If I have a lot of energy, I like to use a stand-up tanning bed, and sometimes I dance while I'm in there. The beds you lie down in are much more relaxing, though, and sometimes I prefer that. Ask your tanning salon what different beds they have, try some different ones, and see what's right for you.

Move Around

When tanning, don't lie still the entire time. This can cause wrinkles in your tan, which are not pretty. Wherever the UV rays do not reach, your body will not tan, so try this: prop your head up slightly on a pillow or lean it slightly forward (or use the pillow if the place provides one). Now, think about any wrinkles in your neck in that position. If there is a wrinkle there, the tiny bit of skin inside that wrinkle will not be exposed to the UV rays, resulting in a white line (tanning wrinkle) across your neck. This is why different positions when tanning can be helpful in achieving an all-over, even tan.

What Type of Lotion Do You Use?

There are a lot of great tanning lotions on the market today. Consider these options:

  • A moisturizer is vital because tanning will dry your skin out.
  • If you are looking for more color, then you may want to try a lotion with a bronzer or intensifier as well. A bronzer will add more color to your complexion. Most lotions that contain bronzers will say something along the lines of 10x or 30x on them. The higher the number, the more bronzer the lotion contains, and the darker it will help you get. Another trick is to look at the color of the lotion before purchasing it. The more bronzer a lotion contains, the darker its color will be.
  • Other types of lotions include maximizers, accelerators, tingle lotions, and cooling lotions.
  • When applying lotion, it is important to take your time and apply it evenly. If you wind up with five times more lotion on your stomach and hardly any on your chest, it can lead to an extremely uneven tan. If you have sensitive skin, it's a great idea to buy a small sample packet of the lotion to test before committing to an entire bottle.

For a more detailed explanation of the different terms listed on those thirty bottles of great lotion, check out Tanning with a Little Bit of Lotion: Choose the Right One for You. I've also included a couple more tanning lotion reviews in that article for you to check out!

This is the color of Peace Love and Cupcakes. See how there's some color, but it's not too dark? That's a 10x bronzer.
This is the color of Peace Love and Cupcakes. See how there's some color, but it's not too dark? That's a 10x bronzer.

Peace Love and Cupcakes Tanning Lotion

This is one of the first tanning lotions I bought, and it's still one of my favorites! Peace Love and Cupcakes is a lotion by Australian Gold and has a great, sweet smell to it. It also has 10x bronzer. Now, keep in mind the higher the number, the darker it will help you get. If you burn easily, you may want to start out with a low bronzer just to make sure. Also, you aren't supposed to shower directly after tanning, and no one wants to walk around smelling like tanning lotion all day. That's why there are two things I always check before buying a lotion: the smell and the color. The color is another way to tell how dark you will get instead of simply looking at the number before the bronzer.

With this lotion, I could see color within a day, and got complimented on how great I smelled!

The color of Shea You Love Me
The color of Shea You Love Me

Shea You Love Me

This lotion is an intensifier. Bronzers and intensifiers are supposed to do the same thing but in different ways. Bronzers have pigments in them to help you look dark while you're getting a tan. These are great if you want to hurry up and wear shorts without white legs :) Intensifiers are supposed to help your skin produce more melanin so that you get a deeper, more natural-looking tan. I'm on the fence with that. I tried this product for an extended period of time, and did not see a difference. I still love the product, but I use it for my face now. I have sensitive skin so I was a bit skeptical about spending this much on a lotion, but it was worth it. Shea You Love Me is very moisturizing, hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free. Tanning can cause dry skin, and I don't want my face to get any darker (it's already in the sun so much, and I want my whole body to match) so this is the perfect lotion for my face. I only use about the size of a pea for my face, and this one bottle has lasted me months!


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    • Yokeira Rivas profile image

      Yokeira Rivas 3 months ago

      Me gusta siempre vestir elegante fina ser una persona sencilla y a la vez bondadosa

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 14 months ago

      I was scared the first time I went tanning. After watching Final Destination, I triple check to make sure it didn't lock when I closed the lid. It doesn't, and most tanning beds have a stop button in case you want to finish early. If you live near a tanning salon that will let you go tanning without purchasing a membership, just try it one afternoon. You'll fall in love

    • aspiring soul profile image

      Swati 15 months ago from India

      I am so afraid of this... :( LOL. But, somehow I liked the results one of my friends had.

    • Taranwanderer profile image

      Taranwanderer 22 months ago

      I guess if you're really that concerned with your looks, tanning is a viable option. I suspect my wife wants one...she keeps mentioning the tanning salon around the corner where we live.

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 2 years ago


      I have to agree with that it is important to explain the risks. Tanning salons downplay the risks, and teenagers don't even consider them. I have to disagree with banning tanning beds all together, but I do think that they should be stricter with age limits. I enjoy the benefits without going overboard. You will never see me with very dark skin, but it's nice to feel refreshed during the winter, be free of acne and not have to deal with eczema. Thank you for your opinion though, I have to agree with you halfway.

    • Linda Robinson60 profile image

      Linda Robinson 2 years ago from Cicero, New York

      Good Morning Amber I really enjoyed this hub, you covered the topic so well and answered so many imperative questions for anyone who is interested and wants to be informed about the tanning bed experience. Really nice meeting you. I look forward to following you reading more of your exceptional writing.

    • GuyDrori profile image

      Guy Drori 2 years ago

      I liked the fact that you posted the cons of indoor tanning as well. Many people who explain about indoor tanning leave out the risks. Personally I prefer light skin on myself - hence I usually stay away from the sun. But to each his own. Personally I would not recommend indoor tanning even for the people who are obsessed with having dark skin. The cons, or the risks, as I see them, are greater than the pros - and as a person who values health, I would even recommend to ban tanning beds and make them illegal. Though so are my thoughts, I did enjoy reading your article.

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 2 years ago

      You're lucky emge!

    • emge profile image

      Madan 2 years ago from Abu Dhabi

      tons of information in this hub. I am glad I stay in a tropical country and we have no need of such appliances.

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 2 years ago


      It shouldn't. I use different lotions on my legs and it's never left an obvious line. If anything, it should balance the color out

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 2 years ago


      Call around to local tanning salons and ask if they have any bigger beds. I've been in some level three beds that are bigger and have an extra set of lights down one side. You can also stick with the stand ups and up your time or go with different lotion. The more color the lotion has, the more color it will give you- remember that. Good luck!

    • profile image

      Hmmm 2 years ago

      I'm curious about tanning lotion. I was wanting to just put it on my legs, as my legs tend to take a little longer to gain color. Will this create a nasty tan line from the bronzers?

    • profile image

      paul 2 years ago

      Im a bodybuilder and too big to rotate to my sides and the stand ups are too weak what can I do?

    • Agilitybeauty profile image

      Agility Beauty 2 years ago from U.S.A

      It's my first time i read about tanning bed, it's amazing

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago

      If you don't burn easily, you can go every day and get some color to your skin. If it's gets too close, and you're not at the color you want to be, I'd recommend going with a spray tan to get the color you want. The difference in beds in technically the UV rays, but what it boils down to is the color and how long it lasts. A lower level will give you color quicker, but it will also fade away quicker. A higher level will give you color slower, but it will result in a deeper tan that will last longer. Mix it up, going in a lower level one day and a higher level the next day.

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago

      Just rotate. Think of the hot dogs you see that are on a warmer. Most of the time, they are on a metal rack that rotates them so they don't burn and stay warm evenly. It's the same thing. The pale sides are happening because there are more than likely not tanning bulbs on the sides of the bed you're using. Instead of laying on your back or stomach when you tan, lay on your side the next time with your arms extended above your head. If your tanning salon has a stand up bed, that would be a wonderful idea too!

    • profile image

      angie 3 years ago

      I am going on vacation in a week to a week in a half. I have very white skin and dark hair. What would you recommend? What is the difference really between a level 2 and a level 4... and which is better. I want to be darker by the time vca rolls around. Thank you.

    • profile image

      Jessica 3 years ago

      I go tanning like once a week and I tan well but my sides are still pale and the outer sides of my legs. do you know how I could fix this ?

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago

      Everyone is different, just like every case of psoriasis is different. I go 15 minutes three times a week and it helps with mine. BUT it also depends on how bad your psoriasis is. You may need to go more, or you may be able to go less. Start out at the usual seven minutes, and pay attention to how long you go before you see a difference. Try every other day at first and then tone it down a bit and see if it comes back. You can also ask your tanning consultant as they can see your psoriasis, or your dermatologist. I'm sorry this answer is so vague, but it truly is different with each person.

    • profile image

      Francisca 3 years ago

      How long should I go. I have psoriasis and

      My dermatologist put me in uv lights long time ago. So I unknow how often and how many times

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago


      Try going for just seven minutes at first. If you don't burn then you should be good to add another minute or two. Just keep going up and you'll be fine :) As far as lotions go, check out the article about the different kinds of lotions. I would advise against any type of tingler or intensifier, just look for a basic lotion with bronzer. Open the cap and look at the color of the lotion, and don't forget you aren't supposed to shower right after going tanning so you want one that doesn't smell gross!

    • profile image

      brian 3 years ago

      Thank you for your response jenny. However I will only be happy if my skin becomes dark chocolate. My eyes are brown so all I have to do is keep my head shaved and darken my skin. Get my drivers license picture renewed and I am good to go.

      black skin makes you look stronger and white males are looked at as weak. As a black man I can protect my white loved ones much better.

    • profile image

      Jodi 3 years ago

      I have a few question. I'm a first time tanner. I am very fare skinned & I have freckles & I take insulin. What is your suggestion! How long should I stay in a tanning bed? And also what kind of lotion should I start out using that I can but at a Grocery Store? Please help! Thank you

    • hotfashion profile image

      Mell Watson 3 years ago

      I think tanning beds are helpful :)

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago

      You can start with a level 2 and only go for about seven or eight minutes. Then, see if you burn. If you don't, try the same time again. Then, increase your time by a minute or two each time. If you burn, stay there for a little bit or decrease your time again.

      Take the time that you lay in the tanning bed and divide it by four, for your back, stomach, and each side. If you notice that one spot seems to tan quicker than the others (my stomach does, for whatever reason, while for some people their back does), then adjust the time accordingly giving less time on that particular side.

      Don't forget eyewear and enjoy!

    • profile image

      Brittany 3 years ago

      As a first time tanner with really white skin, what level bed do you recommend i use and how long on each size should i lay?

    • profile image

      jynny 3 years ago


      I once played the part of a hispanic girl in a play and had to get a custom spray tan for it. I am very pale white and after the spray tan darkened all the way people seriously didn't recognize me. People mistook me for Mexican all week. You can definitely achieve a very dark look from spray tans.

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 3 years ago

      Nice hub to inform about the dangers and benefits of tanning beds. This is something I will never have to worry about thank goodness. If I had white skin and wanted a tan I think I'd go the route of tan in a can. Some of it looks really good, as in not orange, has no smell, and is much better for skin than sun exposure. Plus a vitamin D supplement gives you what you need without risk to your health.

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago

      Rotate. Think of the hot dogs on the warmers at Speedway. It's kind of like that. So, lay on your back for a few minutes, then roll over on your right side, then lay on your stomach, and then your left side. Even with beds that have both the top and the bottom, I still do that because when I don't my sides aren't as tan. Let us know how it turns out!

    • profile image

      britney 3 years ago

      My tanning bed only has the bottom part. What do u suggest bc my tan is really uneven

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago

      I have no idea...

    • profile image

      brian 3 years ago

      I have a question. Do you know if it is possible to change your skin color from white to black through tanning? I have heard that a custom air brush can get you all the way to black.

      I want to change my skin color to black because black skin makes you look stronger and more masculine.

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago

      The difference between a bronzing bed and a regular tanning bed is the level of UVB rays. Regular tanning beds emit a higher percentage of UVB rays, which can take longer to look tan. Bronzing beds emit a lower percentage of UVB rays, so they will result in a deeper, bronze tan quicker.

      At my salon, the level three beds are the bronzing beds, and you don't go as long, but they result in a deeper tan. The level two beds you get tan quicker, but it doesn't last as long. If you've got a month, I'd say go for it and mix it up. For example, try a level three (bronzing bed) two times a week and then a level two once or twice a week and you should be good to go in a month!

    • profile image

      Lily 3 years ago

      So ive tanned before in regular tanning beds but i have a month before prom and a friend recommended trying a bronzing bed.. i like to try new things and im really in a time crunch here.. any advice about bronzing beds? I just really wanna know what to expect without getting my hopes up too high. Thankyou in advance :)

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago

      You know Patty that's actually what sparked the idea of writing this! It took me forever to find information online if it was even there and the girls at the salon were no help at all!

    • profile image

      Patty 3 years ago

      Thank you so much for this write up. I really like the beds at my tanning salon that I go to, but the girls who work there are young girls who don't really care and aren't educated. I'd like more tips and info from them but alas, they just sit on their phones and talk to each other.

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago


      Anything wrong with the bulbs? Try rotating. If there's nothing wrong with the bed and you're rotating then it may just take you a little bit longer for those spots. I tan unevenly at first. My legs take longer and for some odd reason my stomach does too.

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago


      Check with your salon about what level bed you're using. At mine they call them level one, two and three. You might need to step it up a notch or two. You could also try going more frequently. If all else fails you can get a spray tan for that night!

    • profile image

      kelsey 3 years ago

      I just bought a used bed from a family member and I do not get any sun on my back or butt? I've laid about 8 times with bronzer as well.

    • profile image

      kayla 3 years ago

      I have gone tanning about 8 times for my prom and im not tanning fast any tips?

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago

      As far as I know it's still ok...I've always rotated in tanning beds, and still do so that my tan is even. I double checked with the girls that work at my tanning salon, and was told that it's fine. After reading your question, I put some time into finding out what may be wrong with laying on your stomach, and have yet to find anything that says you aren't supposed to lay on your stomach. Enjoy your even tan and don't worry about it!

    • profile image

      Nanci 3 years ago

      Ok I am not happy with the tanning salon I am going to. I don't think the owner knows half of what she tells me. Cosmetologist for 35 years I know a little bit about the beds. There are stronger beds now so I understand only 12 minutes. 3 times straight I barely got sun on my back. Asked her if she had the UVB (stronger) on bottom of bed too, said yes. Well I finally flipped, laid on my stomach and finally got sun on back. Now she says your not supposed to lay on your stomach in the lay down beds!! WHAAAATTT???? Is this for real??? Please reassure me that what I've always done is still ok, thanks

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago

      Yes, the goggles protect your eyes, whether they are open or closed. Think of it like this, your eyelids are so thin they don't protect your eyes, which is why the goggles are a requirement. So, whether they are open behind the goggles doesn't really matter.

    • profile image

      devin 3 years ago

      Can you open your eyes in the stand up beds with the goggles in?

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago

      There are safety mechanisms on the tanning beds that I've used. They all have the option for you to simply open the tanning bed or the door, and there is a button by the timer so you can simply stop the tanning bed. I wouldn't wear metal jewelry while tanning, but I've never tried it. It looks cute in a picture, but it makes sense to me that it would get hot and leave a "not so cute" tan line. The bottom of the stand up beds do not get hot. It only gets hot where the tanning bulbs are :) Some people wear protective things on their feet, kind of like when you use a public shower, but I never have because I don't want those tan lines. Tanning salons are supposed to disinfect every bed after every use.

      I think it's ironic you mentioned getting stuck because that was one of the first things I thought of! Especially after watching Final No, you cannot get stuck. The way tanning beds are designed, you lay down, and then close the top part over top of you, but the top part does not latch when you close it. You can then open and close it at any point in time, even while it is on. This is so if you start to feel to hot, or, like me, you sit on the tanning bed for a minute so you don't get a tanning wrinkle on your butt, you can easily get out of the tanning bed. Stand up beds are the same way. It's like a little room that you step into, and then you close the door. When you close the door, it does not latch, and you can also open the door at any point in time.

      If you're going tanning for the first time and are a little anxious about that, just give it a shot. Lay down and close the lid. Then, open and close it a few times. It might sound weird, but it'll help.

      I have a lot of redness to my face, so it helps even my skin out. It also works wonders for my acne, eczema and psoriasis. It takes time and consistency to see a difference though. Good luck and I hope that helps!

    • FlowerCS profile image

      Lindsey A S 3 years ago from Delaware

      So wow this was done very well written well and very informative. I thought this was great because this is a very serious thing people say oh its ok or its not well you are being cooked so its a serious thing. Anyway I have always wanted to try this for my skin as well as an even skin tone and to darken my skin just a bit from acne etc. However I still don't know if I'd be comfortable. I mean I am not sure if there is a safety mechanism on these or what? So these are my questions

      Is it safe to wear jewelry/metal on your skin I mean is it REALLY?

      If you stand up etc. and the bottom is metal as I see in one of the photos shouldn't you be wearning some kind of protective barrier on your feet? Does the bottom get too hot?

      Also is there a safety mechanism that shuts off the tanning bed if something should occur. Lol how much time would you have to breathe in one of those things if you got stuck? I mean you can't get stuck right.

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 3 years ago

      Just start out a little at a time, and don't forget to MOVE. (Not yelling, just emphasizing) When I first went tanning I didn't and wound up with a crease in my neck that wasn't tan. It looked awful. I think everything else is covered, so just relax and enjoy it. :)

    • profile image

      Mariah s. 3 years ago

      I just signed up for a gym membership

      and they have tanning! It'll be my first time so I'm really nervous. Any tips?

    • profile image

      Frank 3 years ago

      Here is a tip # 6 for the males..

      I found some tanning covers for mens private parts at Amazon that help keeps things together.

      Men's Tanning Caps is what they are called.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Really well done. I use to tan in moderation in tanning beds and I was very careful. I have seen women who overdo it and besides being dangerous they look hilarious. ^+

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 4 years ago

      Great tips Savannah thanks!

    • profile image

      savannah 4 years ago


      1)protect dyed have with heat spray &\or a cap

      2)don't tan everyday... Its harsh on the skin. A good bronzing lotion helps your tan stay for up to 8 days so excessive tanning isn't necessary

      3)moisturize!!!! So important to keeping a tan.... Hydrate your skin. I love Hawaiian tropic after sun lotion

      4)don't use expensive lotion to get your base it's a waste. When you get your base then use a better product

      5)if your a beginner not tan too long start at 8m & progress up to 15m depending on skin tone

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 4 years ago

      Glad this helped you out and thanks!

    • profile image

      pastywhite 4 years ago

      THANK YOU SOOO MUCH! This actually helped me with what I want to do. I've decided to go tanning, but not every day. I do burn easily, so I've worked out what I'm gonna do. The risk and benefits you listed helped a lot. Your no expert, but honestly, you should start a blog!

      Anyway! Thank hun!

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 5 years ago

      Thank you billybuc! :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I like that you listed the dangers of this activity. Well-researched and well-written hub my friend.


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