Skin color gives clues to health

Nov 16, 2009

Researchers from the universities of Bristol and St. Andrews in the UK have found that the color of a person's skin affects how healthy and therefore attractive they appear, and have found that diet may be crucial to achieving the most desirable complexion. The work will be published in the December issue of Springer's International Journal of Primatology.

Using specialist computer software, a total of 54 Caucasian participants of both sexes were asked to manipulate the color of male and female Caucasian faces to make them look as healthy as possible. They chose to increase the rosiness, yellowness and brightness of the skin.

"Most previous work on faces has focused on the shape of the face or the texture of the skin, but one of the most variable characteristics of the face is ," said Dr. Ian Stephen who is now at the University of Bristol.

"We knew from our previous work that people who have more blood and more oxygen color in their skins looked healthy, and so we decided to see what other colors affect health perceptions. This has given us some clues as to what other skin pigments may relate to a healthy appearance."

Skin that is slightly flushed with blood and full of oxygen suggests a strong heart and lungs, supporting the study's findings that rosier skin appeared healthy. Smokers and people with diabetes or have fewer in their skin, and so skin would appear less rosy.

The preference for more golden or 'yellow-toned' skin as healthier might be explained by the 'carotenoid pigments' that we get from the fruit and vegetables in our diet. These plant pigments are powerful antioxidants that soak up dangerous compounds produced when the body combats disease. They are also important for our immune and reproductive systems and may help prevent cancer.

They are the same dietary pigments that brightly colored birds and fish use to show off their healthiness and attract mates, and the researchers think that similar biological mechanisms may be at work in humans.

"In the West we often think that sun tanning is the best way to improve the color of your skin," said Ian Stephen, "but our research suggests that living a healthy lifestyle with a good diet might actually be better."

Melanin, the pigment that causes the tan color when skin is exposed to the sun makes the skin darker and more yellow, but participants in the study chose to make skin lighter and more yellow to make it look healthier.

"This discovery is very exciting and has given us a promising lead into cues to health," said Professor David Perrett, head of the Perception Lab at the University of St. Andrews, where the research took place.

"What we eat and not just how much we eat appears to be important for a healthy appearance. The only natural way in which we can make our skin lighter and more yellow is to eat a more healthy diet high in fruit and vegetables."

More information: Stephen ID et al (2009). Facial skin coloration affects perceived health of human faces. International Journal of Primatology, DOI: 10.1007/s10764-009-9380-z

Source: Springer

Explore further: Researchers study novel drug-delivery system

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Feather color is more than skin deep

Apr 15, 2009

Where do birds get their red feathers from? According to Esther del Val, from the National History Museum in Barcelona, Spain, and her team, the red carotenoids that give the common crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) its red coloration ...

The elderberry way to perfect skin

Jul 03, 2007

Forget expensive moisturisers and cosmetic surgery, a compound found in the humble elderberry could give a natural boost to skin.

The body's own 'marijuana' is good for the skin

Jul 02, 2008

Scientists from Hungary, Germany and the U.K. have discovered that our own body not only makes chemical compounds similar to the active ingredient in marijuana (THC), but these play an important part in maintaining healthy ...

Recommended for you

Study establishes zebrafish as a model for flu study

2 hours ago

In the ongoing struggle to prevent and manage seasonal flu outbreaks, animal models of influenza infection are essential to gaining better understanding of innate immune response and screening for new drugs. ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

x646d63
1 / 5 (1) Nov 16, 2009
WTF? Is this a Eugenics study from Nazi Germany?

This guy (Stephen) seems to be obsessed by the superficial.

http://www.physor...872.html