Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

Skin color cues to human health: carotenoids, aerobic fitness, and body fat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


David I. Perrett, Sean Talamas, Patrick Cairns, Audrey J. Henderson

School/Research organisations


Colorful carotenoid ornaments are sexually selected signals of health in many species. In humans too, carotenoids could provide a perceptible cue to health as they impart an attractive yellow-orange color to skin. Increasing carotenoid pigmentation and skin yellowness is associated with increased fruit and vegetable intake, but whether other aspects of human health benefit skin color is unknown. Carotenoids, as antioxidants, help maintain oxidative balance but are expended in this role. Therefore, any health factor affecting oxidative balance could alter the quantity of carotenoids available to color skin. Exercise increases endogenous antioxidant capacity and consequently may decrease expenditure of carotenoids. Fitness could also raise skin carotenoids by lowering body fat (a source of oxidative stress). Here we investigate the relationship between skin color (measured spectrophotometrically), aerobic fitness (measured by estimating the maximum volume of oxygen that a person can use per unit of time, VO2 max), and body fat. In a cross-sectional design, we find that both higher aerobic fitness and lower body fat are predictors of skin yellowness, independent of each other and dietary fruit and vegetable intake. In a longitudinal design over 8 weeks, we found that increase in fitness and decrease in body fat were independently associated with an increase in skin yellowness. Change in self-reported stress and sleep were further predictors of skin yellowness indicating a more general relation between health and skin tone. Simulations of the skin color associated with higher fitness were found to appear healthier. Hence, our results suggest that increasing cardiovascular fitness and decreasing fat levels produce a healthier skin color. Such findings have repercussions for public health because improved attractiveness can provide an incentive for a healthier lifestyle, including exercise and weight regulation.


Original languageEnglish
Article number392
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2020

    Research areas

  • Health, Skin color, Carotenoids, Fitness, Body fat

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. Misperceptions of opposite-sex preferences for thinness and muscularity

    Perrett, D. I. & Lei, X., 25 May 2020, In : British Journal of Psychology. Early View, 18 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. Immune function during early adolescence positively predicts adult facial sexual dimorphism in both men and women

    Foo, Y. Z., Simmons, L. W., Perrett, D. I., Holt, P., Eastwood, P. R. & Rhodes, G., 17 Feb 2020, In : Evolution and Human Behavior. In press

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  3. Attraction to men and women predicts sexual dimorphism preferences

    Batres, C., Jones, B. C. & Perrett, D. I., 21 Jan 2020, In : International Journal of Sexual Health. Latest Articles

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Related by journal

  1. Frontiers in Psychology (Journal)

    Joanne Elizabeth Cecil (Editor)
    May 20132017

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial work typesEditor of research journal

Related by journal

  1. Inferring unseen causes: developmental and evolutionary origins

    Civelek, Z., Call, J. & Seed, A., 6 May 2020, In : Frontiers in Psychology. 11, 17 p., 872.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. Language origins viewed in spontaneous and interactive vocal rates of human and bonobo infants

    Oller, D. K., Griebel, U., Iyer, S. N., Jhang, Y., Warlaumont, A. S., Dale, R. & Call, J., 2 Apr 2019, In : Frontiers in Psychology. 10, 18 p., 729.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

ID: 266484076