Contest Prep 101: Tanning Tips For the Stage

So many competitive physique athletes have no idea why they have to suffer the inconvenience of getting tan for their competition. They train and diet like their lives depend on it, but when it comes to tanning they want the easy way out! They don’t want to spend valuable training time in the tanning booth, at the beach or sitting by the pool.

The reality is that EVERYONE looks better with a tan! But put a person with hardly any clothes on under very bright, hot stage lighting can look pasty even with a very dark natural tan.

Think about when you see an actor or performer up close with their makeup on. They can look like clowns up close, but under the lights that makeup allows their features to be seen from a distance. It is the same thing for the physique athlete – you want to display your hard-earned definition and, in order to do so, you have to be darker than a “normal tan” due to the intensity of the stage lighting. This helps bring out definition in the muscle, as it highlights the shadows that the definition creates on your body.

Even dark-skinned competitors need to tan with product, because it will add a little red tone to their skin to ensure they don’t look yellow, grey or ashy under the bright lights. Most products, like Pro Tan Overnight Competition Color, have both a self tanner and a cosmetic bronzer in them. The self tanner in the product activates the longer it stays on the skin.

Every person will have a slightly different color based on their own skin tone (whether it’s very pale or very dark). This is why applying the tan a couple of days prior to the competition is always the best idea.”

Check out the tips below to ensure you’re tanning the right way, for the best possible outcome when you step on stage for your next contest.


1 Build A Base
Having a base tan is really helpful for two reasons; it helps make the tanning product look more even and it also thins the skin. Also, if the tan happens to run onstage, at least there is a base underneath and the difference isn’t as startling.
Start tanning in a bed or outdoors AT LEAST three weeks out from a contest, 2-3 times a week. If you tan outdoors, use sunscreen as burning and tan lines are not desired. If you tan in a bed, gradual tanning while naked is the best way to ensure your color is even. Don’t worry if there is a little line under your butt cheeks or under arms. Those areas tend to be lighter anyway. You can, however, change positions in the bed to try to get tan everywhere (as best as possible). Make sure you STOP tanning the week of your show and BE CAREFUL NOT TO GET BURNED!!!! Peeling skin causes patches and tan lines CANNOT BE FIXED!

If you are opposed to tanning outdoors or in the booth, a good idea is to use a self tanner prior to using the actual tanning product. You should do this a few weeks prior to your show and make sure that you apply it evenly and take care of your skin properly. People who are very pale should really do this to give themselves a base.


2 Exfoliate
Smooth skin is essential to an even tan. It is important to exfoliate several weeks prior to your show. You can use a product or just use a good old-fashioned wash cloth. The terry cloth fabric is the BEST exfoliator. The week prior to the show you should use a non-oil based exfoliating product. Pro Tan has a great product; GET BUFFED. Not only is this non-oil based, but the ingredients help to balance out the PH of the skin so it doesn’t turn colors.

Make sure to exfoliate evenly – if there is old skin still left in an area that has been exfoliated or waxed, once you put the tanning product on those areas will be darker than then new skin. That leads to a “patchy” look and, much like a sunburn, there is nothing you can do if this happens.


3 Shave Or Wax
Of course all hair needs to be removed from the body so the skin has a nice, smooth look to it and all definition can be seen. Shaving, waxing or hair removal products can all be used. I STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT IF YOU HAVE NEVER WAXED BEFORE DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE WEEK OF YOUR SHOW TO TRY IT!

Once you start applying your tan YOU CAN NO LONGER SHAVE! Although you may feel stubble growing back prior to the contest it really cannot be seen when you are on stage. If you shave AFTER your tan is applied then your risk the tan coming off that area as you are exfoliating your skin further.

Waxing is ideal because it lasts longer than shaving but if you do NOT know how your body will take to it, or you have sensitive skin, try it several weeks before your show to ensure that you don’t get rashes or burns from waxing. If you have burns on your skin or a rash from waxing, the tan will be darker in those areas.
The same thing goes for hair removal products. Make sure you experiment with them several weeks prior to your show in case they give you a rash or don’t work. I recommend these products on areas that have light hair (fuzz). Oftentimes you don’t see this hair but once you apply the tan it shows. Common “fuzzy” areas are the glutes, lower back and arms.


4 Last Minute Details
It is VERY IMPORTANT that prior to applying your first coat of tan that you have dry, exfoliated, hairless skin so that the tan soaks into the skin perfectly and evenly. You should shower and exfoliate for the last time right before you go in for your tan. If you have gone all day traveling, checking into your hotel and sitting at athlete check-ins, your skin will have moisture on it from sweating and the tan won’t adhere well to the skin. Make sure that you wash your armpit areas with a soap wash cloth as deodorant tends to stay on the skin. Sometimes leftover deodorant will change the color of the tanning product.

After you shower, DO NOT USE MOISTURIZER OR DEODORANT on your skin. If you tend to have very oily skin you may want to use dishwashing liquid as it really dries out the skin. I don’t find this necessary in all cases.

One spot that you may want to put a small amount of body lotion on is your heels, knees, elbows, hands and feet. These are places that tend to be dryer than normal skin and the tan can stick in those places and be darker.


Carla Salotti is an IFBB Professional Bodybuilder with 10 years of experience tanning IFBB and NPC competitors. Salotti,turned pro at the 2005 nationals and holds the title of the 2004 NPC Masters Nationals Overall Women’s Bodybuilding winner. She has been working with Pro Tan since 2003. Go to to find out more about Carla, or visit the Pro Tan website at