Healthy living can give your skin a golden glow

Credit: University of St Andrews

In a new study, researchers found that a healthy lifestyle strongly improves a person’s skin color.

The finding reveals that a balanced and healthy lifestyle, including becoming fitter, avoiding stress and sleeping longer, all impart a healthy-looking golden skin color.

The research was led by a team at the University of St Andrews.

Previous studies link improvements in skin color to a good diet, however, it was not known if skin color is a more general cue to health beyond its association with diet.

The current study focused on other aspects of a healthy lifestyle and how this impacts positively on skin color.

The team worked with 134 students measuring fitness from heart rate while walking and running on a treadmill.

They assessed body fat levels with an impedance meter much like that available on many bathroom weighing scales. They also measured skin color with a device that records how a rainbow of colors is reflected from the skin.

The team found that eating a healthy diet full of fruit and vegetables increases skin yellowness, making the skin look healthier and more attractive.

The color change is due to the accumulation of colored plant pigments in the skin such as orange carotene from carrots and red lycopene from tomatoes.

These pigments, called carotenoids, play an important role as antioxidants. Stresses and strains of everyday life produce oxidative toxins that damage DNA and proteins.

Antioxidants such as carotenoids protect against damage by neutralizing the toxins, however, antioxidants are used up in the neutralizing process.

In addition, exercise boosts the body’s own antioxidant systems which may spare the carotenoid pigments so that they can accumulate in the skin.

Other aspects of health such as losing excess body fat, reducing mental stress, and better quality, longer sleep may decrease the production of oxidative toxins thereby sparing the skin carotenoids.

The team says skin yellowness could be an indicator of a person’s health by demonstrating that the body has enough antioxidant reserves and low levels of oxidative toxins.

Both high fitness and low body fat were linked to higher skin yellowness. This yellower skin of fit individuals was not due to a better diet or from a suntan from being outdoors more.

To take the study further, the research team assessed whether a change in health changed skin appearance.

They followed 59 students from sports clubs to measure the impact of their training on their overall skin appearance. Those that increased in fitness or lost body fat showed an increase in skin yellowness.

Questionnaires showed that increased psychological stress and a loss of sleep were also associated with a reduction in skin yellowness.

Skin color change was not due to training outdoors or increased suntan because health was unrelated to skin lightness change.

Given the effect of skin color on attractiveness, the findings may help motivate people to follow healthier lifestyles such as exercising frequently, avoiding excess calorie intake and undue stress, and adopting good sleep habits.

All these lifestyle factors, in addition to eating more fruit and vegetables, induce an attractive golden glow to the skin.

The lead author of the study is Professor David Perrett from the School of Psychology and Neuroscience.

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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