How do bodybuilders get that tanned and glowing look on the stage?

A body builder gets sprayed with tan paint before taking the stage during the Mumbai Bodybuilding competition
A body builder gets a tan spray before the competition. Photo: Rafiq Maqbool/ Associated Press/ Alamy

Everyone knows that bodybuilders look very tanned and glowing on the stage… but not many know how they actually get the tan. So let me tell you that!

For me, this was probably one of the most surprising experiences throughout my whole bodybuilding journey.

It involved a lot more than I thought before. Including all the surprises on the way!

First thing is the skin preparation

Getting closer to a bodybuilding competition means starting to think about the skin prep.

For the tan to look good on skin, a bodybuilder must be exfoliating and moisturising their skin regularly weeks ahead of the show day.

Two or three days before getting a tan, the whole body must be shaved. To avoid a patchy or uneven look, no hair should be left on the body.

Day Before the Competition: Base Coat Tan

On the tanning day (and preferably the day before too), it is advised to not use any perfumes, sprays, deodorants, lotions or any other chemicals on the body, as it can affect how the tan looks and sits on the skin.

If there are any chemicals on the body, the tan can actually turn green. So it is advised to not use anything at all.

And now to the most interesting part – the tanning itself.

The day before the competition is when you get a base coat tan.

Bangkok, Thailand. 16th Sep, 2023. Athlete's assistant is painting tan on the body of a bodybuilding athlete, Before going on stage to compete at The Thailand Muscle and Physique Championships 2023 on September 16, 2023. at Central Rama 2 Department Store, Bangkok, Thailand.
Photo: ZUMA Press / Alamy Stock Photo

You are in a tanning room with other people of the same sex, you wear nothing but a hair net, and then you get sprayed with a fake tan starting from your face down to your toes.

No area of your body gets missed.

After that, you stand by a massive fan for at least 10-15 minutes to ensure your tan dries off.

You have to be careful not to ruin the tan. This means avoiding any liquid getting on your skin and even trying to avoid sweating.

Most bodybuilders would also wear black and baggy clothing only, as the tan can stain clothes.

Two females flexing their muscles.
Photo from author’s private archive

Day of the Competition: Top Coat

The next morning, you get the top coat tan.

The process of getting the top coat is mostly the same. The only difference is that this tan does not get sprayed on the face.

However, the top coat is usually water-based. Therefore, you need to be even more careful with it.

Any liquid that gets on the skin will wash off the tan and leave marks.

And here goes the next surprise I didn’t know about before – using a Shewee! I don’t think this needs any more explanation.

Want to brush your teeth? Yet again, make sure nothing splashes on your skin.

And yes, this also means that no showering is allowed until after the show.


Then you get glazed shortly before stepping on the stage. And this is what gives that shiny, glowing look.

The tanning team fixes your tan, does a few touch-ups. Then they spray the glaze.

A body builder gets sprayed with tan paint before taking the stage during the Mumbai Bodybuilding competition
Photo: Rafiq Maqbool/ Associated Press/ Alamy Stock Photo


After the show, there is no better feeling than a long, nice shower.

One thing to be aware of, the top coat tan can stick around for two weeks at least… and you might end up having a stripy ‘tiger skin’, as the tan wears off… but that’s a story for another day.