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Carotenoids not sunbeds make you more attractive

Whether you have a light or dark skin, you'll be more attractive the more carotenoids you consume. The amount of melanin, a dark pigment that is stimulated by sunlight, on the other hand, plays no role in attractiveness, say psychologists at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, in an article that will be published soon in Evolution and Human Behavior.

Carotenoids & skin
Most of the carotenoids we get come from plants. Plants produce them as protection against sunlight. The carotenoid beta-carotene is a – not very effective – precursor of vitamin A. Carotenoids like lycopene and lutein protect the prostate and the eyes, and nearly all carotenoids protect the skin.

You can tell from the colour of someone's skin whether they consume lots of carotenoids or not, the researchers discovered. The more portions of fruit and vegetables that their test subjects ate, the more yellow their skin colour.

When the psychologists got their subjects to take 15 mg beta carotene every day for 8 weeks, they saw that the subjects' skin became yellower in colour too.

Carotenoids not sunbeds make you more attractive

Carotenoids not sunbeds make you more attractive

Humans find the skin of someone who consumes large quantities of carotenoids healthy looking and attractive, the psychologists noticed. They discovered this when they let a group of subjects play with a computer programme that could change the skin colour of people in photos. The programme could make the skin look more brown, and more yellow. The subjects were asked to make the people in the photos as attractive as possible.

Carotenoids not sunbeds make you more attractive

Carotenoids not sunbeds make you more attractive
The subjects made the photos more yellow, but not more brown. So it is not the tanning pigment melanin, but the carotenoids in fruit and vegetable that make a skin attractive.

The researchers did experiments with British test subjects, who had to change the faces of white people, and with South Africans, who had to change the faces of coloured people. The South Africans didn't 'brown' or ‘whiten’ faces either; they 'yellowed' them too.

The psychologists think that melanin does not give us any information about someone's health. A skin that has a lot of melanin is probably better protected against UV light, but also manufactures less vitamin D. That's why we are not genetically programmed to find a tanned skin attractive. A skin with a high level of carotenoids gives us meaningful information about someone's health – and so we find that attractive.

The best way to make your skin more attractive is to eat more fruit and vegetables. If you are thinking of using supplements, then avoid products that contain high concentrations of beta-carotene. These increase the risk of cancer in people who smoke or who have had contact with asbestos. There are better supplements on the market that contain high levels of other and safer carotenoids.

"Young women's decisions to eat fruit and vegetables are significantly motivated by a belief that it will improve their appearance", the psychologists write. "Our study linking skin carotenoid coloration to healthy appearance may therefore provide a powerful message for promoting healthy eating, increasing fruit and vegetable intake towards widely missed government recommendations (5–13 portions)."

Evolution and Human Behavior May 2011 Volume 32, Issue 3, Pages 216–227.

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