Get a better tan from carrots

U. NOTTINGHAM (UK) — Getting a golden glow maybe as simple—and healthy—as eating more carrots and tomatoes.

Researchers have found fruits and vegetables that contain carotenoids give skin a tan-like glow. The study, reported in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, showed that, when given a choice, participants preferred the carotenoid skin color over suntanned skin.

“If you want a healthier and more attractive skin color, you are better off eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables than lying in the sun,” says Ian Stephen, study leader and a researcher at the University of Nottingham. Stephen conducted the study as part of his PhD at the University of St. Andrews and Bristol University.

Carotenoids are antioxidants that help soak up damaging compounds produced by the stresses and strains of everyday living, especially when the body is combating disease. Responsible for the red coloring in fruit and vegetables such as carrots and tomatoes, carotenoids are important for immune and reproductive systems.

Stephen suggests that the study is important because evolution would favor individuals who choose to form alliances or mate with healthier individuals over unhealthy individuals.

“This is something we share with many other species,” says David Perrett, a professor and director of the Perception Lab at the University of St. Andrews. “For example, the bright yellow beaks and feathers of many birds can be thought of as adverts showing how healthy a male bird is. What’s more, females of these species prefer to mate with brighter, more colored males. But this is the first study in which this has been demonstrated in humans.”

While this study describes work in Caucasian faces, the paper also describes a study that suggests the effect may exist cross culturally, since similar preferences for skin yellowness were found in an African population.

The work was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Unilever Research.

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