Many of us spend hours sunbathing or fake tanning in order to achieve what we believe to be perfect “sun-kissed” skin. But a new study suggests you can get a much healthier, more attractive glow by eating lots of fruits and vegetables.

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Eating lots of fruits and vegetables – which contain organic pigments called carotenoids – can give us a more healthy, attractive glow than tanning.

According to the research team, including Carmen E. Lefevre of Leeds University Business School and David I. Perrett of the University of St. Andrews, both in the UK, studies have shown that skin coloration plays an important role in facial attractiveness.

There are two primary ways in which skin coloration can occur, the researchers say: melanization, or tanning, and ingestion of carotenoids – organic pigments found in an array of colored fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, apricots, oranges, mangoes and spinach.

Research has suggested that the yellow skin coloration created by dietary carotenoids is perceived as a “healthy” glow, but the team notes that it is unclear how this type of coloration influences perceptions of facial attractiveness.

The researchers wanted to find out with this latest study and determine whether carotenoid coloration or melanin coloration is preferred when it comes to judgements of facial attractiveness.

The study, recently published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, consisted of three separate experiments.

In the first experiment, a group of 60 participants were shown digital images of 27 faces that had been created specifically for testing. Two versions of each face were created. One was color manipulated to show high-carotenoid pigmentation, while the other displayed low-carotenoid pigmentation. Participants were then asked to rate which face color they deemed most attractive.

The team found that 86% of participants rated the high-carotenoid version of each face as more attractive than the low-carotenoid version.

A similar experiment was conducted with a new group of 60 participants, except they were shown faces that were either high or low in melanin pigmentation. In this case, 78.5% of participants rated the high-melanin faces as more attractive.

In the third experiment involving another new group of 60 participants, the same procedure was followed, but subjects were asked to rate whether high-melanin or high-carotenoid faces were more attractive.

Results revealed that 75.9% of participants deemed the high-carotenoid faces more attractive than the high-melanin faces.

Commenting on their overall findings, the researchers say:

Here we present strong evidence for the importance of skin coloration in attractiveness perception and highlight a differential preference for carotenoid over melanin coloration.

[…] These results underline the importance of skin color and specifically of carotenoid coloration as a cue to current health and consequently attractiveness.”

While this study does not determine exactly how many portions of fruits and vegetables can have an effect on skin tone, a previous study conducted by Perrett and colleagues in 2012 found that when participants ate just two extra portions a day for 6 weeks, this had a noticeable effect on their skin tone.

“The message that a good diet improves skin color could improve health across the globe,” Perrett said.

Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study from the American Heart Association claiming that eating more fruits and vegetables could lower global stroke risk.