Eat Your Way To A “Vegetable-Kissed” Tan

by Suzy OGawa on March 12, 2012

Source: purpletwinkie - Flikr Creative Commons

A few weeks ago I wrote about the dangers of sun exposure in my post about metastatic cancers. However, many faithful tanners know about these dangers and continue their liberal worship of the sun. I have to agree that the warmth of the sun is an indulgent feeling and one that I seek out. However, the warmth of the sun is only part of the goal for these chronic tanners. Many people want that sun-kissed look and prior to the turn of the millennium, the only way to get this look was through tanning. Modifying sun exposure behavior took a big leap when suitable (“consumer-worthy”) alternatives to tanning were developed, such as spray-tans and tinted lotions. And now, in 2012, there is a new alternative! Well, really it has been here for millennia. Fruits and vegetable! These wonders of the plant world can provide you with that healthy glow!

I could have told you this years ago, as one of my sisters and her family eat a gargantuan amount of carrots (and other veggies) every year, and they have the healthy orange (tan) glow to prove it. The palms of their hands and the bottoms of their feet are particularly orangey! But now there is research to back up my claim. A small study out of Scotland published online last week in the journal, PLos One, looked at 35 individuals who did not use self-tanners and who did not have recent intensive UV exposure. Skin color measurements and daily fruit and vegetable consumption were taken at three points over a six-week period. The researchers conclude that increased fruit and vegetable consumption confer measurable and perceptibly beneficial effects on Caucasian skin appearance within six weeks.

The secret is in the carotenoids, or the yellow-orange pigments abundant in fruits and vegetables. Think of the orange in carrots. Aside from imparting a healthy glow, carotenoids are also important to the health of your skin, by serving as antioxidants which protect all layers of your skin, such as reducing your skin’s UV sensitivity. So not only is there a “superficial” benefit but you also get a real health benefit. Furthermore, when you eat more fruits and veggies in order to achieve that sun-kissed look, you are modifying your sun exposure habits by reducing your desire to tan. And let’s not forget that you are increasing your vegetable and fruit intake which has many other health benefits.



Whitehead RD, Re D, Xiao D, Ozakinci G and Perrett DI. (March 2012). “You Are What You Eat: Within-Subject Increases in Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Confer Beneficial Skin-Color Changes.” In PLoS ONE, 7:3, e32988-e32988.

PF Anderson March 12, 2012 at 11:38 am

I’ve seen many comedy skits about characters who eat tons of carrots (for yellow) or tomatoes (for red) and then their skin turns that color. A particularly well known one is from the show SCRUBS, in which the residents spend a week trying to diagnose a man’s orange skin color, and it turns out the bulk of his diet was carrots AND tomatoes! Orange! I really like hearing this comedic concept attached to something of more significance and benefit. Thank you for finding and sharing this article!

Suzy OGawa March 13, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I think I remember that episode! Thanks for reading!

PF Anderson March 12, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Curiously, someone just tweeted an interview with the study authors:

Suzy OGawa March 13, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Thanks for sharing!

Catherine OGawa March 12, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Yellow veggies create a healthy tan and one that doesn’t wash off BUT you still need a sunscreen. Another cause of yellow skin is diabetes so if you turn yellow and you are not eating your veggies you should be checked for diabetes.
Also if the whites of your eyes turn yellow too this is a sign of liver disease so see your doctor.

Suzy OGawa March 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Thanks for this info. I should have mentioned these possible medical issues associated with yellow skin.

Angela March 14, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Thanks for the post. My aunt tried the ‘tanning diet’ a while ago and all she got was yellow palms, so she stopped it. Wonder whether colour distribution on the body depends on the person or the types/amount of vegetables…

Suzanne OGawa March 19, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Hmm. Not sure. My sister and her family have really orange palms and bottoms of feet. They are also tan elsewhere, but it’s not an orangey tan. I’m not sure if the different color distribution has to do with the type of skin on one’s body or a person’s skin color in general, but I imagine that the skin that isn’t exposed to sun (palms, etc) is more likely to show the effect of eating carotenoids.

Ginny Kendall March 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I was looking in your post to see what other vegetables cause this tanning effect. You mention carrots, which obvious because of the carotene. You say (and other veggies). Which ones and why does it happen? Is it only vegetables with carotene or are others included?

Suzanne OGawa March 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Vegetables with carotenoids provide the tanning effects. Carotenoids are in warm colored veggies and fruits (orange, yellow and red). So peppers, squash, cantaloupe…

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