Perception of Health Linked to Skin Color

Summary
Few studies have been done to establish a link between appearance and health. In this study, tests were done to compare skin color in those consuming regular diets and diets supplemented with fruits and vegetables. The perception of skin color was assessed and evaluated on cross-cultural comparison. It was seen that excess fruit and vegetables brought on a yellow complexion to the skin and this looked “healthier.” Both black and white participants considered “yellower” faces to be healthier. Thus, this study links skin coloration to perceived health.

Introduction
Just as it is for bird and fish species, health is linked to human attractiveness. However, not much is known about the role of appearance in determining the health of a person. Most studies to date only comment on the facial shape with regard to this respect. Recently, more research is being done on the texture and color of skin, trying to relate them to specific health conditions. Melanin and carotenoids affect the yellowness of skin. Both of these compounds could give an idea about the protection from light, reproductive health and immune defense in humans. Hence, studies were done to investigate “the contribution of carotenoid and melanin to skin color and the healthy appearance of human faces.”

Methodology

  • UK Caucasians participants manipulated the skin color in digital photos of Caucasians to make the face appear “as healthy as possible.”
  • Black South Africans were asked to do the same for photos of black South Africans; and this assessed the cross-cultural perception of skin color in the study.
  • The skin color and carotenoids were compared in a group of Caucasians consuming usual and modified diets (with vegetables). Skin color was assessed be using certain instruments.

Results

  • Both the Caucasian and African participant groups had a preference towards yellow coloration and altered the images provided to suit the same. This indicates that carotenoids were related to a “more healthy face.”
  • People consuming a higher dietary fruit and vegetable intake, with a higher level of carotenoid, had yellower skin.
  • Comparing the effects of carotenoid and melanin coloration, it was seen that carotenoid had a greater influence on the apparently “healthier human face.”

Shortcomings
Each ethnic group was presented with pictures of subjects belonging to their same ethnicity. The result could vary with other-ethnicity faces. While comparing the influence of diets on carotenoid levels and facial yellowing, skin carotenoid levels could be affected by factors such as immune system status of the body. The authors suggest further studies to relate between pigmentation, pigment distribution and healthy appearance.

Conclusion
This study, for the first time ever, has shown that skin color can reflect the perceived healthiness of a person.  The study also links skin carotenoid coloration to a healthy appearance. Additionally, this is the first study done on a mammalian species that indicates a relationship between skin color and diet healthiness. Thus, this should be considered as useful information in promoting healthy eating by increasing consumption of fruit and vegetable intake.

For More Information:
Predicting Health by Assessing Skin Carotenoid Color
Evolution and Human Behavior, September 2010
By Ian D. Stephen; Vinet Coetzee
From the University of Bristol, Bristol, UK, and the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland, UK

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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