THE BLOG
09/18/2014 04:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Carrot or a Tan?

Whenever I think about the good advice I just didn't take I'm ever so sorry I disregarded my mom's and couldn't resist the sun's afterglow -- like everyone else back then I wanted a tan, and felt pale and sickly looking without it.

Sunbathing is considered much less glamorous these days. It's now confirmed that tanning increases the risk of skin cancer and makes our skin look old, but we're not completely over celebrating sun-kissed complexions. We still prefer rosy, slightly flushed, lightly yellow-toned skin -- perhaps it signals healthfulness, wealth and free time.

There are two important ways to affect skin pigmentation though: It can change when exposed to the sun, by producing melanin, or by the pigments we ingest, mainly carotenoids found in carrots, sweet potatoes, dark green leafy greens, sweet red peppers and other colorful fruits and veggies. So can carrots replace a suntan? 

How about some carrots and red peppers? 

A new study in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology looked at how adding carotene or melanin changes a face's attractiveness. The researchers first created digital faces using a composite of three individual images, so that there won't be any prominent features and so that the faces will not be recognizable. The researchers then created a carotene mask -- previous research quantified how much color and which hues appear in the skins of people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables -- and a suntan one. They showed pairs of baseline and tinted faces to volunteers, who were asked to pick the more attractive version. The high carotene image was preferred over the low carotene one in 86 percent of face pairs, and the suntan one was picked over no tan in 78 percent of the faces.

Now here comes the most interesting experiment: Each face was tinted with either carotene or with melanin, and 24 such pairs were shown to 60 new volunteers. When pitched against each other the participants found the high carotene face more attractive than the suntanned one 78 percent of the time!

Getting that healthy glow

I bet you're wondering how long and how much it takes to get the golden carrot and tomato glow. A different study led by Ross Whitehead found that not that much and not that long -- it took 3-4 additional fruits and veggie servings a day and just a few weeks to look measurably more attractive in the eyes of undergraduate students.

Other pluses: You can maintain that healthy glow all winter, and there are so many positive side effects.

Definitely worth a try!

Dr. Ayala