Why Do Bodybuilders Tan So Much? (8 Reasons Why)

If you've ever wondered why bodybuilders look like they've just returned from a two-week vacation in the Caribbean, it's because they tan before competition.

There are many reasons why many bodybuilders choose to do this, but the most common ones are that dark tan makes them look more defined and muscular onstage.

Then again, even black guys and dark-skinned bodybuilders glow when they step on stage, so what's the deal?

Well, there are a few reasons. Let's take a look at 8 of them!

While not as important as focusing on muscle growth, there's quite a lot a good tan can do for them on stage, so I could probably spend all day coming up with reasons for "why do bodybuilders tan," but instead -  I'll just give you 8 of the most common ones.

1. Clearly Defines Muscle Appearance

For many competitive bodybuilders, spray tanning is an essential part of their routine as it offers them a competitive advantage. Why?

Does being tan help muscle definition? Yes. Does being tan make you look more muscular? Yes.

As we all know, muscle definition is one of the bodybuilding essentials.

You could be burly as a bear and as strong as an ox, but unless your muscle striations and intricate feathering are showing, other bodybuilders will leave you in the dust.

With that being said, spray tans can only do so much. If you're not in superbly good shape to begin with, don't expect a tan to work miracles.

Then again, if you've achieved peak physique and want to showcase your best body, even that first coat of oh-so-dark liquid mixture someone coats you in will help tremendously.

Two Male Bodybuilders with Spray Tans at a Bodybuilding Competition

2. Creates a Slimmer Look

We all know that wearing dark clothes can make you look slimmer, and if you think about it, the same logic applies to a tanning product.

Sunless tan helps create the illusion of a slimmer physique by drawing our eyes to those chiseled, transverse muscles of the abdomen.

It also helps hide creases and other stuff you might not want to showcase.

Now, I know what you might think, and yes, you're right, that would make you look smaller, which is not an advantage in any bodybuilding show.

However, if you can use spray tan to your advantage and strategically make some areas of your body look smaller, hide some excess body fat, or accentuate your muscles - just a single coat of this stuff might give you that extra edge you need to win.

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3. Hides Stretch Marks and Blemishes

One thing that pops out when you have a light skin tone is the skin blemishes and stretch marks.

And, if there's one thing bodybuilders struggle with after years of beyond grueling training, PEDs, dehydration, etc. - it's those pesky, pinkish stretch marks and acne.

So, in order to hide the stretch marks and blemishes, most bodybuilders will go through the process of spray tanning.

It's simple, really. A sunless tan helps them look as good as possible when they're onstage, and that's the only thing that matters.

4. Better Against The Bright Lights

Dark colors work better against bright lights, which is why spray tan helps.

They do a much better job at absorbing light, as opposed to bouncing it back.

This is extremely important for bodybuilders because the bright stage lights can be very unforgiving.

Also, two things happen when you shine a bright light on a dark surface. Shadows become darker, and highlights become more pronounced but softer.

They are not necessarily brighter, but considering the contrast - they appear to be. Therefore, your muscles pop.

In other words, darker skin tones create an illusion of much greater muscle separation, accentuating finer details, which is something every bodybuilder strives for.

So, unless you're naturally dark-skinned, spending a few minutes in a tanning bed or getting a professional spray-on might just be the best thing you can do for yourself.

5. Boosts People's Confidence

It is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but if you look good, you feel good.

And, if you feel good, you perform better.

For many folks, especially bodybuilders, a darker skin tone is a huge confidence booster.

It makes them feel more intimidating, more powerful, or in general - just better and healthier.

We all know how dull and lifeless our skin looks when we're sick and pale, so a spray tan can often give us that extra bit of color we need to look healthy and feel good about ourselves.

6. Creates An Even Skin Tone

In a perfect world, we'd all have evenly toned and tanned skin that would showcase our physique and massive muscles.

Unfortunately, that's not the case, which is why most bodybuilders opt for an even, dark tan.

For many people - myself included - our skin is patchy and uneven. Our faces and arms get more sun exposure than our legs and torsos, so they're usually darker.

Also, some areas of the body are just naturally darker or lighter than others (just picture your underarms).

So, just imagine how attention-grabbing these bright or dark color patches would be when you're on a stage, and a lineup of judges is fiercely inspecting every inch of your body. Not ideal, right?

7. Common Part Of The Industry

A bodybuilder tan has become an industry standard.

Some bodybuilders tan year-round and only do the finishing touches a few days before the bodybuilding contest, alongside a professional spray tan right before the event.

8. Vanity Driven

Finally, we can't quite rule out the possibility that many bodybuilders are just vain and want a fake tan.

However, there's nothing wrong with that.

After all, a big part of bodybuilding is about being judged on your looks, so why not make a tanning process a part of your routine?

Bodybuilder Getting a Top Coat of Spray Tan

The Most Common Types Of Tan That Bodybuilders Use

With the "why do bodybuilders tan" question out of the way, let's look at the four most common methods they use to alter their skin tone and make their muscles pop.

Natural Tan

Back in the golden era of bodybuilding, real tans were a thing. However, that's not the case anymore. The fitness industry has changed.

Not only is sunbathing time-consuming, but it also puts you at risk of skin cancer, premature aging, and other skin conditions.

So, while a natural tan might look great, I would not recommend it - especially if you're doing it regularly.

Self-tan

There are about a million products on the market that bodybuilders use to get a self-tan, but most of them aren’t as effective as plain ol’ spray tans.

Also, some of them are filled with carotins which would give you an orange tint.

So, unless you want to look like an Oompa Loompa, I would recommend avoiding self-tanning, as quite a few bodybuilders do.

Spray tan

Arguably the most effective form of tanning, a spray tan can give you an even and consistent skin tone.

The great thing about it is that you can get a spray tan done professionally, so you won't have to worry about streaks or any other common problems associated with self-tanning.

Tanning Supplements

Everyone’s pigments differ, so not everyone will be able to achieve that bronze-like skin color, no matter how much sun they get.

Therefore, some bodybuilders use tanning supplements filled with beta-carotene and other ingredients that can help you get a nice golden hue to your skin.

However, be cautious. If you overdo it - you might end up orange - just as you would with some self-tans. Other side effects have also been reported.[1]

Dana Linn Bailey with a Spray Tan at a Bodybuilding Competition

Things To Consider While Applying A Tan

Now let's look at five things bodybuilders must consider before bodybuilding competitions and fake tanning.

Preparation (Exfoliate and Shave)

Body hair and bodybuilding don't really go hand-in-hand.

Most bodybuilders shave their entire bodies just like a swimmer's body right before a competition. This not only helps with the aesthetics but also allows the tan to spread evenly and look smooth.

The same thing applies to dead skin cells. What tan bodybuilders will do is exfoliate their entire body to get rid of the excess dead skin cells and create a smooth canvas for the tanner.

Stage Lights

As we've said, bright lights will overexpose light skin tones, and a darker color will absorb more light.

So, if possible, bodybuilders will inspect the lights to see just how bright they are and how dark they should get.

While this might not seem like a big deal, it could make a significant difference in how your body looks on stage.

Your Posing Style

Another thing to consider is your posing style. 

You want to make sure that you're not overexposing any particular body part, as that can create an imbalance and make you look disproportionate.

So, if you have a particular pose in mind, make sure your tan accentuates it.

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Watch Out For Difficult To Reach Places

I think we can all agree that professional bodybuilders aren't the most mobile people in the world.

This is due to the sheer amount of muscle they have, which can make it difficult to reach certain areas - like their backs.

So, most professionals have a helper to make sure that they're evenly tanned all over.

The Actual Tan Itself

IFBB actually has regulations on what kind of tan bodybuilders can use.[2]

For the most part, it has to be a natural-looking color, which means no orange, red, or even overly gold hues.

Also, it is not allowed to use any bronzing agents that could make skin look overly metallic, shiny or oily, as that goes against the rulebook.

Two Women Applying a Base Coat Spray Tan to a Bodybuilder

Frequently Asked Bodybuilders Tan Questions

Are fake tans safe for your health?

A sunless tan, like a spray tan, is a much safer alternative than spending countless hours in the sun or tanning beds because you’re not exposing yourself to UV rays. But then again, a fake tan can be detrimental to your health if not done correctly.

How long does a spray tan last?

A regular spray tan lasts for about 7 to 10 days. However, some tanning products used by the bodybuilding community can be simply washed away after a few days.

What are bodybuilders judged on?

A competitive bodybuilder will be judged on their muscularity based on their proportions, muscle mass, and definition. This includes all muscle groups from the head and neck, to the shoulders and arms, chest, abdomen, back, thighs, and calves.

Do bodybuilders need a tan when not in competition?

After a bodybuilding competition, most bodybuilders will ease up on tanning or will, at the very least, be less deeply tanned than before a show.

Is spray tanning associated with body dysmorphia?

Essentially, if an individual becomes overly obsessed with hiding imperfections, that could count as a form of body dysmorphia.

What are some of the best brands of fake tan?

Many brands make quality products, but my personal favorite is Australian Gold. Their products will help you achieve those sultry bronze tans while still looking natural.

Is tan removal necessary?

While spray tan helps on a bodybuilding stage, it’s probably better to remove the spray tan after a show, to avoid looking patchy or weird over the next few days.


Summary

So, why do bodybuilders get spray tans?

It makes it easier for them to showcase their best physique on stage by evening out their skin tone and adding definition to their bulging muscles.

Now that you know what bodybuilders use to hide some body fat and make their muscles pop. Go out there and give it a try!

You may just win one of your local bodybuilding shows!

References: 

1. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-products/tanning-pills

2. https://ifbb.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Mens-Physique-2021.pdf

Miloš Lepotic

Last Updated on December 5, 2022