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The skincare and beauty rituals of bodybuilders

Muscles alone don’t win bodybuilding contests. You need make-up and a skincare regimen too

Navreet Josan (in red bikini) at the IFBB Pro League show last year.

By Dhara Vora Sabhnani

LAST PUBLISHED 25.06.2023  |  08:20 AM IST

" I feel make-up and bodybuilding are very similar. Both boost your confidence and make you take care of yourself," says Chandigarh-based professional bodybuilder Navreet Josan. Over the past weekend, she was at the convention centre

in Delhi’s Pragati Maidan for the IHFF (International Health, Sports and Fitness First) Expo, Sheru Classic, Asia’s largest IFBB (International Fitness and Body- building Federation) Pro League and the qualifiers for Mr Olympia. But she attended the 16-18 June event as a make-up artist for five participants.

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“Nice glutes are a rage at the moment in the industry," says Josan, 37, who’s preparing to compete in a bodybuilding competition later this year. A freelance make-up artist (she was a professional MAC artist till February 2022), she has been in the bodybuilding industry for 13 years. “It’s like a Victoria’s Secret show, you need to be well groomed, and many athletes wear hair extensions too. Having a well-rounded look with face make-up is important to stand out on the stage."

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For you need more than defined muscles to win competitions today. So, besides rigorous training, supplements and a dedicated diet plan, make-up, a strict beauty and skincare regimen are also important to accentuate the body.

Josan’s decade-long experience as a make-up artist helps her understand how lights work on stage. For extra shine, Josan uses shine spray just before going on stage. The process, however, starts the night before, when she uses a body self- tanner and sleeps with the AC cranked up to let the tan set. Another layer is applied the next day and, finally, shine spray just before stepping on to the stage. This practice is standard for men and women. “Everyone uses the same bronzer as it helps the judges judge fairly under the harsh stage lights," explains Josan, who uses a skin-resurfacing retinol body lotion daily.

For women participants, face make-up and a strict skincare regimen are extra steps.

Before her shows, Pune, Maharashtra-based Sarina Pani, a natural bodybuilder who does not rely on steroids or hormone pills for that extra pump, goes for body exfoliation treatment for an even skin tone. Pre-show rituals include body polishing and a waxing session, says Pani, 34, who competes in the bikini division. Like Josan, she’s preparing for a contest later this year. “I like to use niacinamide and vitamin C via serums as these ingredients help heal the skin and promote skin rebuilding while maintaining your skin barrier. And, of course, I drink enough water. It’s essential not just for muscle recovery but also for the skin," says Pani.

When it comes to make-up, participants have to ensure that the face matches the fake body tan. This is tricky, says Josan, for just applying bronzer to the face can make the person look unwell, given that working out leaves no fat on the face. During the run-up to a contest (known as peak week), athletes flush water out of their bodies and usually go on extreme diets with little to no oil and salt and limited water intake to lose every last bit of fat. The leaner they are, the better their muscles look.

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“The trick is to highlight your face around the centre and keep it slightly darker around the periphery. We need to mix foundation and contour colours to focus on the centre and use darker colours for the edges of your face," explains Josan. She regularly likes to get hydrating facials to maintain her skin, especially since meal plans can be severe on the skin. "The make-up has to be loud as the judges are far away."

The choice of bikini is as important as the make-up, stresses Josan. “The eye make-up complements the bikini colour and I do a bit of shine and contour around the eyes and finish with big lashes. This makes the face look fuller and more lively." Your bikini, then, should match your make-up and skin tone.

Bikinis are designed in accordance with the guidelines of different bodybuilding competition categories, such as bikini, physique, fitness, figure and wellness, all of which demand different levels of bulk and weight. Two winners, Rita Sharma and Jahanara Islam, at the Sheru Classic last weekend wore bikinis by Neha Solanki, who runs NS Diva Bikini, which offers exotic custom competition bikinis.

She usually advises athletes to choose designs and colours according to their tanning tone. “There are different winner criteria. For example, what percentage of glutes should be covered, the top shouldn’t be smaller than a certain percentage, front can’t be too low, certain categories need an open back for back muscles to be more visible, and there is also designer sportswear for routines where bikini suits are not comfortable. Crystal work is done to make athletes stand out from the crowd so their hard work can shine," says Solanki.

Pani, like many bodybuilding athletes, uses ProTan for tanning. “The aesthetics are different for body make-up for the stage to regular make-up. While athletes aren’t marked down for not doing face make-up, it helps to have a fully done face to show the judges. I am not good with make-up so I hire a make-up artist for my face," says Pani. And like so many Indian women, she also had difficulty finding her skin tone match and sought her make-up artist’s help to find a shade close to her body bronzer. “I use Dermacolor Camouflage Cream for my face. Even when I am training, I like to wear matte lipstick," says Pani, who is currently training for pro shows in Mumbai in November and in Taiwan in December. Her most important skincare step is cleansing, in addition to sunscreen and moisturiser.

“Your diet is calorie-deficient in this field; it causes hormonal imbalances and you will end up having issues. So you need micronutrients such as vitamin D, calcium and magnesium. It is a lifestyle that demands your attention 365 days a year and is not comparable to losing weight before your wedding or for a photoshoot," says Josan. “It is not a modelling show. If someone has a better physique, they are going to win. What the judges are looking for is a balance between upper and lower body and an hourglass shape in a muscular form. Make-up helps us highlight our hard work a little more."

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Dhara Vora Sabhnani is a Mumbai-based journalist.