The Role of Spray Tan in Bodybuilding Competitions

Bodybuilding requires athletes to have the most strong muscles and an ideal physique, which takes a lot of mental and physical endurance. Bodybuilding competitions are special because the competitors don't only flaunt their muscles on stage—everybody competing appears like a bronze statue, resembling the Sandow trophy. But the question is why is body tanning and bronzing so crucial to bodybuilding? Let us delve into the details. 

The Tanning Process for Bodybuilding Shows

Getting a fake tan for a bodybuilding show is a multi-step process and an important part of contest preparation. Neglecting tan-related preparations until the last minute can negatively affect your placement in a show.

Here’s what the tanning process typically involves:

1- Exfoliate

Competitive bodybuilders often deal with skin issues due to strict diets, intense training, and water manipulation. Athletes moisturise and exfoliate their skin to temporarily fix these issues before applying a tan. Exfoliating removes excess dead skin cells, priming the skin for the first coat of tan.

2- Shave

Most bodybuilders are meticulous about shaving to remove body hair, which can interfere with the application of tan. It's recommended to start shaving at least 30 days before a show to avoid acne, blemishes, or rashes.

3- Tanning

The tanning process varies depending on skin tone. Pale individuals should start their first coat at least three days before a show, with possible twice-daily sessions to achieve the perfect tan. The tanning product, usually a liquid mixture, is sprayed, rubbed, or rolled on. Posing gels like ProTan Quick Bronze® can be used before stepping on stage.

What is a spray tan?

Long before the muscleheads of Jersey Shore had popularised the lifestyle of gym, tan, and laundry, bodybuilders were already applying self-tanning sprays and bronzer on their bodies in the weeks and days that were leading up to important competitions. This practice might be a confusing aspect for outsiders, but physique athletes tanning themselves is an important aspect of bodybuilding.

More than most people realize, this has a long history. Bodybuilding champions' tans differ slightly from regular suntans. Bodybuilders go to great measures to drastically darken their skin tone momentarily and add sheens of glitter or shine before they reveal their incredible physique on stage, regardless of their natural skin hue.

The majority of the time, the tan is produced by combining an organic foundation tan with artificial tanning oils and sprays. The main purpose of this is to accentuate each muscle striation on the body and create an aesthetically pleasing physique on stage, especially with the available stage lighting. But how is this tan useful for performing?

What Causes Bodybuilders to Tan?

Bodybuilders use their tans for more than simply a sun-kissed appearance; they also improve their performance and stage appearance. The following are the main explanations for why bodybuilders value tanning:

1- Enhancing Muscle Definition

A dark tan accentuates muscle definition and separation. Under the bright stage lights, a tan highlights the contrasts between muscles, making every cut and striation more visible. This makes their physique appear more defined and impressive to the judges.

2- Visual Contrast and Slimmer Appearance

Tanning creates a visual illusion of a slimmer, more toned body. It helps bodybuilders appear leaner by reducing the appearance of body fat and creating a uniform skin tone. This is especially important for competitors with very low body fat percentages.

3- Hiding Skin Imperfections

Tanning effectively conceals blemishes, scars, stretch marks, and acne, which could otherwise distract judges from evaluating muscle quality. A smooth, even skin tone ensures the focus remains on the muscle definition.

4- Adapting to Bright Stage Lights

The intense lights at bodybuilding shows can wash out lighter skin tones, making it hard to see muscle definition. A darker tan absorbs light better, ensuring muscles look their best under the bright lights.

5- Boosting Confidence

A good tan can significantly boost a bodybuilder’s confidence. Feeling confident is crucial when presenting oneself on stage, and a well-applied tan helps competitors feel more polished and ready.

6- Industry Standard

Tanning has become a standard practice in the bodybuilding industry. While not mandatory, it’s widely adopted because it offers a competitive edge. Competitors without a tan might find themselves at a disadvantage.

7- Safer Method Compared to Natural Tanning

Spray tans are safer than prolonged exposure to UV rays from the sun or tanning beds, which can increase the risk of skin cancer. Most bodybuilders opt for spray tans to achieve their desired look without compromising their health.

Things to Consider While Applying a Tan

1- Stage Lights

If possible, check out the stage and lighting scheme before tanning. The harder the lights, the darker your tan should be.

2- Posing Suit

Choose the colour of your posing trunks, board shorts, or bikinis to complement your skin tone. Avoid suits that overpower your tan.

3- Tricky Areas

Ensure there are no white patches, especially underarms and gluteal regions, to maintain an even tan.

4- Hydration

Hydration is crucial for glowing skin. Avoid water retention, which can lead to sweating and ruining your tan on stage. Ensure you're not holding water before stepping on stage.

5- Choosing the Right Tan

Select a tan without alcohol to avoid irritation on shaved skin. Your tan should also include a moisturizer to maintain a moist skin look under stage lights. A little shine can enhance your physique's appearance.

Tan Removal

The process of removing a fake tan post-show is simple: bathe! However, thoroughly scrubbing off the tan might require help, and a little post-show celebration in the shower never hurts.

References

  1. An S, Kim K, Moon S, Ko KP, Kim I, Lee JE, Park SK. Indoor Tanning and the Risk of Overall and Early-Onset Melanoma and Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Cancers (Basel). 2021 Nov 25;13(23):5940. doi: 10.3390/cancers13235940. PMID: 34885049; PMCID: PMC8656707.
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Melanoma.” MayoClinic.org. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/melanoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20374884
  3. Strongman project. (n.d.). Retrieved December 7, 2022.
  4. Schwarzenegger, A., Dobbins, B. (1998). The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding (664-667). United Kingdom: Simon & Schuster.