Forget make-up and pricey skincare products. Living an active lifestyle is another way to give caucasian skin that much-prized golden glow, say researchers from the University of St Andrews.

Published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the study didn’t look at how diet affects skin colour – previous studies already have done that. So the researchers already knew that eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables – particularly ones rich in coloured plant pigments called carotenoids – can give your skin a more golden hue (for carotenoids think carrots, tomatoes and other red/orange/yellow foods). Why? Because the pigments can be stored in the skin, scientists believe.

Instead, this latest study investigated the role of exercise on skin hue. One hundred and thirty four student volunteers had their fitness assessed while walking and running on a treadmill. They also had their body fat levels measured. What the researchers found was that the fitter the volunteer (and the lower their body fat), the more golden their skin looked.

What they think is going on here is that exercise boosts the body’s production of antioxidants. Carotenoid pigments are antioxidants. So in very simple terms, instead of doing their usual job in the body – because the body has enough of its own antioxidants to do that – the carotenoids are allowed to accumulate in the skin.

Then the researchers decided to look at how changes in health affect skin tone. Working with just 59 volunteers they found again that skin became more golden in participants who became fitter or who lost more body fat. But those who were affected by things like stress and sleep problems were lacking that golden glow.

But they didn’t stop there. The researchers also looked into how skin hue is perceived by others.

“We wanted to know whether the skin colour change looked healthy,” says Professor David Perrett, the study’s lead scientist.

“We simulated the colour change in face images keeping everything else such as expression constant. For 21 observers we found the change in colour with increased fitness was visible and was judged as looking healthier on 90 per cent of trials. This means that as people get healthier others should be able to notice the improvement in skin colour.

“We were surprised to find that the skin colour changes accompanying change in health occurred quite quickly and within eight weeks. This means that any effort to improve lifestyle will benefit appearance within a relatively short time.”

It just goes to show you don’t need to spend a fortune on the latest fake tanning products. Just get more active. That way you’ll gain lots more wellbeing benefits too (though we can’t guarantee an actual tan, just a healthy golden glow).


Photo by Brad Halcrow on Unsplash