If you’ve ever seen a body building competition then you’ve probably noticed that everyone is very orange and dark.

This may seem strange because this is not the ideal look for everyday life.

Most people wish to look more tan, but not to the extent of being as orange as a pumpkin.

Why Do Bodybuilders Put On Fake Tan?

Tanning darkens the skin, making muscles look more defined and also providing a leaner body appearance. Both of these are the main things being judged on a bodybuilding stage. Tans can also cover up any skin imperfections that would take away from the look of the muscle.

The Exact Tanning Routine

A few days leading up the bodybuilding competition, the tanning schedule begins. The competitors have already been dieting and pumping their muscles up for the past weeks and are almost ready to hop on stage.

First, their skin must be exfoliated to remove dead skin cells from the body. The skin will then be smooth and ready to absorb the tan.

A shave follows. Not only does completely smooth skin absorb the tan better. It also will help show better muscle definition. Hair can cover up muscles definition, and cause someone else to place better than you.

The day before the competition, it is then time to apply the tan. The tan is usually sprayed and then rolled on. A final sticky film is placed over the contestant before they go on stage.



I think it’s a good idea to look into what exactly contestants are judged on, to understand further how a tan fits in.

Muscle Definition – The leaner you are, the more your muscles will have a defined look, where you can see lines separating each of them.

Mass – Obviously you must have a lot of muscle mass to compete in bodybuilding. However, it is muscle mass, not body fat. Contestants are at dangerously low body fat levels when competing.

Proportion – This is one of the more difficult categories that proves it’s not just about getting as big as you possibly can. This means that all the muscles are equal in size with one another. If your legs are huge, but your arms are lacking, this is where you would lose points.

Symmetry – Similar to proportion, however involves the same muscle groups being compared to one another. So, if one of your triceps is bigger than the other, you would lose points here.

Stage Presence – How you present yourself and pose is a huge factor in bodybuilding. You can show up with the best physique, but if you have poor posing you can still lose. You’ll notice competitors always have a big smile on their face while posing. This is stage presence.

Shows More Muscle Definition

Muscles pop a lot more on a dark surface. It also helps show the definition and lines of each muscle.

The shadows of the muscles will pop out more when they are darker. Veins and striations are all much more visible when darkened.

There are many very bright lights shining on bodybuilders while they’re on stage. If they have pale skin, they can be drowned out by the light. If you can’t see all of their muscle definition, then they risk losing to their competition.

To get technical for a second, white objects reflect light. And pretty much any other bright colors. Black or dark objects absorb or hold light.

The same process happens on stage. The darker the skin tone, the more the light will not reflect off of the persons skin.

With all the other competitors using a tan, you would stand out if you were the only person without one. In addition, your muscles would not be as defined or stand out as much as everyone else.

Tans have become so prominent in bodybuilding shows that judges even have started judging based off of how the tan looks.

This peer pressures a lot of competitors into tanning, much like the use of performance enhancing drugs. You do not have to do them, but when all of your competition is, you be at a huge disadvantage if you didn’t.

Makes Them Look More Lean

The goal of bodybuilding competitions is to have as much muscle as possible, while also being as lean as possible.

The fact that tanning makes you look leaner is very helpful. The tan helps hide lines in the skin that are in place due to body fat.

By removing any signs of body fat, your physique will look a lot more lean.

If you’ve ever heard that wearing a black shirt makes you look thinner, the same applies here. Having darker skin will do the same for your body weight.

More veins and striations in the muscles also provide the illusion of a leaner body.

Tans Cover Up Stretch Marks And Blemishes

Skin imperfections can easily be covered up with a tan. This makes the physique look better as only the muscle is visible, rather than any marks on the skin.

Stretch marks are very common for those building muscles. This is because the skin gets stretched as high amounts of muscle are built.

Another thing to consider is acne from steroid side effects. Let’s face it, mostly all bodybuilders are taking performance enhancing drugs. One of the side effects are acne and skin imperfections.

Luckily, tanned skin does not show the redness of acne like pale skin will.

Tattoos are also included. Many judges will take points off for too many tattoos as it covers up muscle definition. Tanning makes it more difficult to see the tattoos as it darkens the skin to almost the same color as the tattoo.

Are Fake Tans Safe?

While tanning outside and in tanning beds can be dangerous and lead to skin cancer, spray tans are not as dangerous.

They may be slightly safer, but they still involve applying chemicals onto your skin. Since you are not being exposed to ultraviolet rays, you are safe from developing skin cancer.

The active ingredient in spray tans is dihydroxyacetone or DHA, which is a glycerin derivative. When applied to the skin, it reacts and binds with amino acids in dead skin cells, which gives the illusion of the skin being tan.

This causes the production of melanoidins which are similar to the natural pigment melanin produced by the skin after sun exposure.

Since our skin is constantly producing and shedding skin cells, the spray tan will only last a week or two.

Are there risks associated with DHA exposure? Of course there is. While not as deadly as direct UV ray exposure, they can still lead to DNA damage and cell death.

This is because some DNA is absorbed into the skin. DHA is only approved for external use. When it absorbs into the skin, it is potentially dangerous.

Make sure to cover mucous membranes and wear goggles when tanning to limit the possible ingestion of DHA. Moisturize after a tan and always exfoliate the skin. Limit the use of tanning when possible.

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