The Ultimate Guide to Spray Tanning in Bodybuilding Competitions

  • By: Dave Moffat
  • Date: June 2, 2023
Spray Tanning in Bodybuilding Competitions

In the world of bodybuilding, the visual aspect is just as important as physical strength and muscle development.

One crucial element that plays a significant role in showcasing a competitor’s physique is the use of spray tans.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore why bodybuilders use spray tans for competitions, how tanning and bodybuilding are related, and the advantages and disadvantages of this trend.

The Basics of Bodybuilding and Tanning

Bodybuilding is a sport that focuses on developing and displaying a well-defined, muscular, and aesthetically pleasing physique. Competitors are judged based on their muscle size, symmetry, definition, and overall presentation.

Tanning, on the other hand, is the process of darkening the skin tone, either through natural sun exposure or artificial methods such as spray tans.

The History of Tanning in Bodybuilding

Tanning in the bodybuilding industry has a rich history that traces its roots back to the early days of competitive bodybuilding. It is believed that tanning first became associated with bodybuilding competitions in the 1950s, when competitors realized that a darker skin tone could help accentuate muscle definition and separation on stage.

Over time, tanning gained popularity among both male and female bodybuilders, becoming an essential aspect of competition preparation. Early tanning methods primarily relied on natural sun exposure or sunbeds, but as the sport evolved and the demand for safer and more efficient tanning solutions increased, innovations such as spray-on tans and self-tanning lotions emerged.

These products allowed competitors to achieve a consistent, competition-ready tan without the risks associated with excessive sun exposure or sunbed use.

In terms of judging, while tanning itself is not explicitly scored in competitions, it plays a significant role in the overall presentation and can impact a competitor’s final score due to its effect on muscle definition and stage presence.

The bodybuilding world has not been immune to controversies related to tanning, with incidents of competitors using excessively dark tans or engaging in “blackface” causing public outcry and prompting organizing bodies to implement stricter guidelines and penalties for inappropriate tanning practices.

Currently, the industry continues to explore new tanning technologies and products, seeking to strike a balance between aesthetics, safety, and convenience.

As the sport of bodybuilding continues to evolve, so too will the use of tanning in competitions, reflecting the ongoing quest for the perfect physique and presentation.

The Golden Era of Bodybuilding

The Golden Era of bodybuilding refers to the period between the late 1960s and the early 1980s when bodybuilding legends like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, and Frank Zane dominated the sport. During this time, tanning became increasingly popular among bodybuilders as a way to showcase their physiques more effectively.

In the Golden Era, bodybuilders primarily relied on natural sun exposure and sunbeds to achieve a darker skin tone. Many competitors would spend hours laying out in the sun or visiting tanning salons to develop a deep, bronzed look that would highlight their muscles on stage.

This method of tanning was not without its drawbacks, however, as excessive sun exposure can lead to skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer.

Modern-Day Tanning Techniques

As the sport of bodybuilding evolved, so too did the methods used by competitors to achieve the perfect tan. Today, spray tans have become the go-to solution for most bodybuilders, offering a safer and more efficient alternative to traditional sun tanning. Spray tans provide an even, consistent color across the entire body, which is essential for presenting a polished and professional appearance on stage.

There are several advantages to using spray tans in modern-day bodybuilding:

  1. Safety: Spray tans eliminate the need for excessive sun exposure or the use of sunbeds, reducing the risk of skin damage and skin cancer associated with traditional tanning methods.
  2. Customization: Spray tan solutions can be tailored to suit each competitor’s specific skin tone and desired level of darkness, ensuring a natural-looking result that complements their physique.
  3. Convenience: Spray tans can be applied quickly and easily, allowing competitors to achieve a competition-ready tan in a matter of hours rather than days or weeks.

The Connection Between Bodybuilding and Tanning

So, how are bodybuilding and tanning related? The primary reason bodybuilders use spray tans is to enhance their muscle definition and separation during competitions. A darker skin tone helps accentuate the shadows created by the contours of the muscles, making them appear more prominent and visually striking.

Why Spray Tans Are Essential for Bodybuilders in Competitions

  1. Enhanced Muscle Definition: As mentioned earlier, a darker skin tone highlights the muscle definition and separation more effectively. This allows judges and spectators to better appreciate the competitor’s hard work and dedication to their physique.
  2. Even Skin Tone: Spray tans provide an even, consistent color across the entire body, which is essential for presenting a polished and professional appearance on stage. This consistency helps competitors avoid any distractions caused by uneven skin tone or blemishes.
  3. Improved Stage Presence: A spray tan can boost a competitor’s confidence and stage presence, as they know their physique is being showcased in the best possible light. This can translate into a better performance and higher scores from judges.
  4. Adherence to Competition Standards: Many bodybuilding competitions have specific guidelines regarding tanning, making it a requirement for competitors to achieve a certain level of darkness. Using a spray tan ensures that competitors meet these standards and avoid penalties or disqualification.

Disadvantages of Spray Tans in Bodybuilding

While there are several benefits to using spray tans in bodybuilding competitions, there are also some disadvantages to consider:

  1. Cost: Professional spray tans can be expensive, especially when considering multiple applications leading up to and during a competition.
  2. Skin Irritation and Allergies: Some individuals may experience skin irritation or allergic reactions to the ingredients in spray tan solutions. It is essential to patch test the product before full application to avoid any adverse reactions.
  3. Maintenance: Spray tans require careful maintenance to ensure they remain even and do not become streaky or patchy. This can be time-consuming and may cause stress leading up to a competition.
  4. Temporary Results: Spray tans are not a permanent solution, as they typically last between 5-10 days. This means competitors will need to reapply the tan for each competition or event.


In conclusion, spray tans play a vital role in bodybuilding competitions, as they enhance muscle definition, create an even skin tone, and improve overall stage presence.

While there are some disadvantages associated with spray tanning, such as cost and maintenance, the benefits often outweigh these drawbacks for serious competitors.

By understanding the importance of spray tans in bodybuilding and being aware of the potential disadvantages, competitors can make informed decisions about their tanning process and ensure they showcase their physique in the best possible light on stage.

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Hi, I'm Dave Moffat the founder and Chief Editor of and certified International Personal Trainer and Certified Nutritionist. My passion has always been bodybuilding but with 15 years' experience in weight loss programs too, it's hard not to mention all that when you're working at your fitness level fullest (I hope). When Im not in the gym or spending time away from my family i often think about what advice would help others achieve theirs goals just like these inspired mine.