Dr Ian Stephen, from the School of Psychology, University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus, led the research and said, "Most people think the best way to improve skin colour is to get a suntan, but our research shows that eating lots of fruit and vegetables is actually more effective."
Stephen and colleagues in the Perception Lab found that people who eat more fruit and vegetables each day have a more golden skin color, thanks to carotenoids. Carotenoids are antioxidants that may help soak up damaging compounds produced by the stresses and strains of everyday living, especially when the body is combating disease
"We found that, given the choice between skin colour caused by suntan and skin colour caused by carotenoids, people preferred the carotenoid skin colour, so if you want a healthier and more attractive skin colour, you are better off eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables than lying in the sun," said Stephen, who suggests that the study is important because evolution would favor individuals who choose to form alliances or mate with healthier individuals over unhealthy individuals.
Professor David Perrett, who heads the Perception Lab, said, "This is something we share with many other species. For example, the bright yellow beaks and feathers of many birds can be thought of as adverts showing how healthy a male bird is. What's more, females of these species prefer to mate with brighter, more coloured males. But this is the first study in which this has been demonstrated in humans."
While this study describes work in Caucasian faces, the paper also describes a study that suggests the effect may exist cross culturally, since similar preferences for skin yellowness were found in an African population.