Why do Bodybuilders Tan?

6 Reasons Why Bodybuilders Tan

If you’ve ever seen a bodybuilding competition you must have noticed that all the competitors are sporting a deep tan (male and female competitors alike). Bodybuilders sometimes refer to this fake tan as ‘competition color’.

But why do bodybuilders tan?

Bodybuilders tan for a number of reasons, primarily: To make muscles look more defined, help them appear slimmer, to hide any skin blemishes, and for vanity / aesthetics reasons.

Let’s look deeper to understand…

Why Do Bodybuilders Tan?

There are 6 main reasons why bodybuilders tan:

1. Tanning Helps with Muscle Definition

A darker skin tone helps muscles appear more prominent than a lighter skin tone. Naturally, body builders want their muscles to look as defined as possible come competition day, and fake tan is just one technique to help increase definition.

2. A Tan Makes Bodybuilders Appear Slimmer

Similar to the muscle definition, tanned skin helps give the appearance of being slimmer more than than lighter skin does.

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3. A Tan Covers Blemishes and Scars

Bodybuilders put their skin through a tough time. Sweating, dehydration or water rationing, and strict diets all increase the stress on skin and can lead to dry, irritated, or blotchy skin.

Extreme muscle mass, speed of muscle gain, and rapid fluctuations in size (e.g. from bulking to cutting) can lead to stretch marks on the skin. A covering of fake tan can help hide all of these skin blemishes and give the impression of perfect, healthy skin.

There is more than just vanity in wanting to hide blemishes. The International Federation of Body Building & Fitness (IFBB) include the following paragraph in their competition judging criteria:

“The judge should also look for good skin tone with an absence of surgical or other scars, spots, acne or tattoos, which the IFBB considers as a skin blemish, tidily dressed hair, well-shaped feet, and toes. When having difficulty in placing two or more competitors who seem to be on the same level, the judge should look for faults in those aspects listed above which will help to differentiate among the competitors.”

So the use of fake tan can actually make the difference between winning and losing in competition.

4. Vanity / Aesthetics

Bodybuilders have trained for months and years leading up to this competition. They want to look and feel their very best.

Aside from the effect of enhancing muscle definition and appearing slimmer, someone with a tan is generally received as looking more attractive than without a tan.

A study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology tested how attractive and healthy people were perceived based on their level of tan. The results showed that a medium tan is perceived as the most attractive and healthy, and no tan was perceived as the least attractive and healthy.

5. It is Expected as the Competition Norm

All bodybuilding competitors tan (unless they have naturally dark skin). So imagine being the only un-tanned competitor in the competition. As we all as not getting the other benefits described here, it would just look odd and out of place.

Given that tanning for competitions is the norm, it would be strange for a competitor NOT to tan.

6. It Helps Bodybuilders get into the Right Frame of Mind

Many athletes have a regular pre-performance routine that they perform to help them mentally prepare. Any deviation from this routine can be a distraction and can affect performance.

Similarly, sportspeople wear the same kit or equipment for their activity feel more comfortable and ready when they are properly dressed. Wearing the wrong kit or using incorrect equipment can be off-putting and will reduce performance.

For bodybuilders, sporting a tan is part of the routine leading up to competition and part of the performance costume.

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How do Bodybuilders Tan?

There are several different ways for bodybuilders to get their ‘competition color’ tan, including:

  • Natural sun exposure (including tan accelerators)
  • Exposure to UV light (sunbeds or sunlamps)
  • Stainers (application of Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) via spray or lotion)
  • Bronzers (dyes)

The IFBB Rules state:

Article 6 – Prejudging: Posing Attire for All Rounds
6.2 The use of tans and bronzers that can be wiped off is not allowed. If the tan comes off by simply wiping, the athlete will not be allowed to enter the stage. Artificial body colouring and self-tanning products may be used. Professional competition tanning methods (airbrush tanning, cabin spray tanning) may be used if applied by the professional companies and qualified personnel. Sparkles, glitter, shiny metallic pearls or gold coloring are prohibited whether applied as part of a tanning lotion or applied separately, regardless of who applied them on the competitor’s body.

Therefore the most common way bodybuilders achieve their competition tan is to use Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) via spray or lotion.

Is DHA safe?

The key ingredient in fake tan sprays or lotions is Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which causes a chemical reaction with amino acids in surface skin cells, causing a darkening effect.

DHA is approved by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for external application – as it is intended to be used with lotion.

DHA is not approved for contact with the eye area, lips or any part of the body covered with a mucous membrane (e.g. inside of the nose). Given that the mist created in spray tanning booths could lead to contact with these body areas, the use of DHA in spray tanning has not been FDA approved due to lack of supporting data.

If applying tan via spray, it is important to wear protection for the eyes, lips, mouth and nose.

Does fake tan prevent sunburn?

Some tanning lotions may also include sunscreen, which means they will provide some protection against from the sun – but only for as long as, and effectively as, applying normal sunscreen. The actual change in skin color from applying DHA will not provide protection from the sun.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that the use of fake tan as an alternative to UV / sun tanning led to a reduction in sunbathing and sunburn, and an increase in the use of protective clothing.

The hypothesis behind this is that people who already have a tan (from a spray or lotion) do not feel the need to tan further and are not drawn to excessive sunbathing or sun exposure. The study concluded, however, that more research is required to validate this hypothesis.

Are Bodybuilders Judged on Their Tan?

Whilst a competitor’s tam is not directly part of the judging criteria, the IFBB have confirmed that the absence of skin blemishes is a deciding factor when all other factors are equal.

So a competitor will not get an edge based on their tan alone, but they could benefit from a tan covering skim blemishes.

What Fake Tan do Bodybuilders Use?

There are many different brands of fake tan available, in many different forms. From our research on the bodybuilding.com forums it is clear that Pro Tan is a clear favorite among bodybuilders for their competition color.

Here is a selection of Pro Tan products specifically for tanning – visit the Pro Tan store on Amazon to see related products, including skin preparation, stage finishes, and tan removal.

Pro Tan / Overnight Competition Color / Base Coat

Self-tanning formula that helps achieve a deep, dark and long lasting tan from the first application.

Pro Tan / Super Dark / Competition Color

Ultra dark bronzing mousse that provides a natural walnut color, perfect for competitions.

Pro Tan / Instant Competition Color Top Coat

Self-tanning formula that helps achieve a deep, dark and long lasting tan from the first application.

DIY Tanning Mini Kit for Body Building Competitions
Pro Tan / DIY Single Show Mini Kit

All the products you need (including pre-tan and post-tine shine) to get your competition color whilst on the road. All products sized to be be allowed on flights.

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