Get a Tan by Eating Fruit and Vegetables

by KathleenDuffy

According to recent scientific research eating vegetables on a daily basis, particularly tomatoes and carrots, can give the skin a healthy glow or 'tan'.

We all know that too much sun is a bad thing, particularly for those sun-worshippers with fair complexions. However, according to new scientific research, a daily helping of vegetables and fruit can boost the complexion to such an extent that the skin takes on a noticeably healthier glow.

Dr Ian Stephen and his team at the University of St Andrews and Bristol University have carried out research which shows that a healthy diet consisting of the daily consumption of fruit and vegetables does more for improved skin colour than the burning rays of the sun. The results were published in the ‘Journal of Evolution and Human Behaviour’ 2010.

How Fruit and Vegetables Improve Skin Colour

The research was part of Dr Stephen’s PhD at the University of St Andrews and Bristol University. Dr Stephen and his research team at the Perception Laboratory at St Andrews University (an area in Scotland not famous for its tropical climate!) showed that people who increased their intake of fruit and vegetables saw an improvement in their skin colour .

This was due to the carotenoids in fruit and vegetables, particularly those of the red varieties, such as carrots, tomatoes, plums and red peppers.

Fruit & Veg on Show

Dr Stephens explains that carotenoids, with their antioxidant qualities, are successful at decreasing the harmful compounds which are the result of our stressful lifestyles. In addition, carotenoids help to alleviate the damage caused to the body when it is struggling to fight off disease as well as being important factors for our immune and reproductive health.

For a healthy, natural glow therefore, Dr Stephen recommends a daily minimum intake of five portions of fruit and vegetables. The result will be not only improved skin colour but a general improvement in health overall.

The Photographic Evidence

Here you can see three photos of one of Dr Stephen’s student volunteers.

Student Volunteer
Student Volunteer

The woman’s natural facial skin colour is shown in the middle picture.

The left hand picture shows the face of the woman after sun tanning.

The right hand face shows the effect of consuming extra carotenoids.

Those who participated in the studies agreed that the colour produced by carotenoid consumption looked healthier.

Skin Tanning, Evolution and Health


Dr Stephen and the Head of the Perception Lab, Professor David Perrett, believe that the study may also be important from the viewpoint of evolution. For instance, being perceived as healthier could be an evolutionary factor when choosing a mate. As an example, some species of male bird who have, for instance, bright yellow beaks and coloured feathers, might be seen as attractive to females because they are perceived as healthy individuals.

In the same way, this study is seen as the first to demonstrate possible similar tendencies of partner attraction in humans. The impression of a strong heart and lungs, and therefore longevity, is seen in a rosy complexion.

Using computer software 54 volunteers were asked to manipulate a series of 51 images (30 male and 21 female faces) by adjusting the colour of the facial skin. The idea was to create as healthy a facial appearance as possible. All the volunteers increased the lightness and rosy look of the skin, in addition to adding a yellow tone.

Cross Cultural Studies into Skin Tanning

This study has concentrated on Caucasian faces. However, the paper also describes a further study that seems to show that skin yellowness is also a preference in African societies. But some could argue that preferred skin colour may well be based on complex historical and social factors. Dr Stephen is aware of this and, as he pointed out in an interview in The Guardian.

"Ironically, there's almost something racist in that suggestion because the implication is that you can't see the same colour changes in black faces. Of course you can. In West Africa, for instance, skin pigmentation is affected by consumption of red palm oil with high levels of carotenoids. We're hoping to do further cross-cultural studies in the UK, Africa and Malaysia."

Whatever the deep social or evolutionary reasons may be for wanting a healthy glow, the fact is that many of us will risk our health to get one. But, as Dr Stephen and his team have shown, the most effective way to improve skin colour is not by soaking up those dangerous rays, but by eating a minimum of five daily helpings of carotenoid-rich fruit and vegetables.

Carrot anyone?




  • Ian D. Stephen, Vinet Coetzee, David I. Perrett. "Carotenoid and melanin pigment coloration affect perceived human health" in Evolution and Human Behavior, 2010; from Science Daily Website
  • "How Vegetables Can Give You That Golden Glow" by Chris Arnot in The Guardian, Tuesday 8th February 2011.
  • University of Nottingham. "Eating vegetables gives skin a more healthy glow than the sun, study shows." ScienceDaily, 12 Jan. 2011. Web. 9 May 2013.


Buy Self-Tanning Lotion on E-Bay

Safer than the Sun!
Updated: 06/04/2013, KathleenDuffy
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Rose on 11/23/2013

What an interesting piece of science! I had heard that eating a lot of tomatoes reduced your tendency to burn in the sun, so perhaps there's something important that's going on with these foods.

KathleenDuffy on 05/25/2013

Hi Katiem2 - Really pleased you liked the article. Thanks for tweeting it! :)

katiem2 on 05/25/2013

Now that's one way for a redhead to get a glow, love the tips. I juice a lot and feel amazing when I do plus I notice a subtle glow to my skin. I enjoyed this article, so gonna tweet it now.

KathleenDuffy on 05/12/2013

Yes - food can be strong stuff! There used to be some tanning pills in the 1970s which had loads of carotenoids in them - I tried them and although I did go a sort of parchment colour, the inside of my hands went very yellow! I think they are banned now!

GermanUtopia on 05/11/2013

Very interesting study! I knew about the effect of the carrot consumption, but I didn't knew that other vegetables could have this effect too.

AbbyFitz on 05/09/2013

This was a very interesting article. It's amazing how food enhances our health on the inside and on the outer surface

KathleenDuffy on 05/09/2013

I'm fair-skinned, and I do notice a 'glow' when I have a carrot every day! There's definitely something in it. Thanks for the post Elias.

EliasZanetti on 05/09/2013

Interesting research. Vegetables are very healthy anyway so I guess I will give carotenoids a try this summer. If I get a better skin color in the way that would be a plus. :)

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