Lead researcher Dr Ian Stephen, from the University of Bristol said: "Most people in the West think that the best way to improve your skin colour is to get a suntan. But our research shows that eating lots of fruit and vegetables is actually more effective."
The team, working at a laboratory at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, first assessed the skin colour of people in relation to their diet. Those who ate more portions of fruit and vegetables a day were found to have a more golden, yellow skin colour.
They then used a scientific instrument called a spectrophotometer to measure the way that measured the way that light in different parts of the spectrum is absorbed by the skin.
This revealed that those with a healthy glow had a higher presence of carotenoids, which are yellow and red antioxidants thought to play a role in the immune system and fertility. Carotenoids are commonly found in fruit and vegetables such as yellow and red peppers, spinach, apricots and melons.
The team then studied the relation between skin tone and attractiveness. They used specialist computer software to manipulate the skin colour on the images of 51 faces to simulate more and less carotenoids and more and less suntan. Participants were then asked to adjust the skin colour to make the faces look as healthy as possible.
Given the choice between skin colour enhanced by suntan and skin colour enhanced by carotenoids, participants preferred the carotenoid skin colour.
"Our work suggests that the carotenoid colouration of human skin may represent a similar advertisement of health and fertility." concluded Dr Stephen.
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