Monday, April 30, 2012

Carrot tan

The face in the middle shows the woman's natural colour. The face on the left shows the effect of sun tanning, while the face on the right shows the effect of eating more carotenoids. Participants thought the carotenoid colour looked healthier. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Nottingham)

To say that my skin is on the lighter end of the light-dark scale is like saying that albinos are a little pale. My whole life I have never tanned. Not even after a summer at cadet camp when I was 14, and outdoors in the Yukon mid-summer sunshine all day for three weeks. I burnt a lot as a kid, which at that time was normal and no one thought a thing about it.

It wasn't until I was in my 20s that we started learning that sun = death, and most especially for very fair skinned people, and especially especially for light-skinned people who burned a lot as kids. I got into the habit of using sunscreen, 20-30 spf in the spring and summer when I was still in Toronto. I always hated it, because it turns you into human fly paper, and all the black particulate matter in the big horrible city, congeals on your skin, burrows into your pores, combines with your own err... materials, and becomes a horrifying greasy sludge that you have to scrape off with a mason's trowel every day. This combined with Toronto's 30 degree average summer temperatures and the 110 % average humidity, and you can see why I wasn't too keen on living in Canada's financial capital. (Did I ever mention how much I hated Toronto?)

Of course, I mostly got out of the habit in England; as you might guess, there seemed less urgency somehow.

Then came Italy. And Italy, if it means nothing else, means sun. And it is the kind of sun our friend Dorothy quite accurately described as "carnivorous". Italian woman think that roasting themselves like a Thanksgiving turkey in the sun is going to make them beautiful. Indeed, they look great until they're about 30. And then it's over. Most Italian women in their forties look sixty, which is not helped by the fact that they all smoke. Seriously, "old saddle leather" is descriptive.

I went to the train station bar one time to buy some water and bus tickets, and the guys at the bar were kidding me a little about my white, white skin. I smiled and asked them how old they thought I was. 24? 26? When I told them, they nearly dropped their tiny coffees. "Io non sono amici con il sole," I said, smiling.

These days, even in winter, I go out with 50 spf sunblock which I mix with a little Oil of Olay day cream. The really ghostly effect is helped by powdering down the sticky with talcum powder. This keeps me from being all shiny, and keeps things comfortably unsticky. It also makes me nearly glow in the dark.

After chemo, the doctors told me very sternly that I absolutely must stay out of the sun. I was to keep up with the 50 spf, wear a hat and long sleeved blouses, sunglasses and even carry an umbrella. I was told simply not to go out between 11 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon. I had read that chemo would make me very sensitive to a lot of things, all sorts of chemicals, detergents, and the sun. I was very assiduous about this, with one exception.

One day, a couple of friends came over and we decided to go out to a nice fish and seafood place for lunch. That day, I decided to forego the sunblock, being already tired of being sticky and hot and uncomfortable, I relied on the long sleeved shirt, hat and umbrella. By the time we got to the restaurant, about a 20 minute walk from my place, and were waiting for our lunch, I noticed that I had suddenly come out in a terrible rash on my face. This stayed for a few days and had to be treated with some kind of cortisone cream or something. And there had not been a moment in the walk when I was directly in the sun. I had kept my hat on, stayed in the shade, but just the ambient light at midday bouncing off the white garden walls in the Italian summer was enough. Lesson learned.

But even before chemo, being sticky and glowing a lurid white all summer is kind of par for my course all my adult life. I just don't change colour in the summer and whenever I have been silly enough to try, the results have been less than positive. But recently, I've been getting a lot of rather interesting compliments, and much of it involves comments like "are you getting a tan?". As I said below, people at the party the other night, and at other times, have been telling me very loudly how healthy and glowy I look. Smiley and happy too. Comments like "You're kind of throwing off sparks," have been heard at parties.

And, although I do feel much better post-sugar, the comments about my looks were a bit puzzling until I read this:

"Switching to a healthier diet can have visible effect on the complexion in as little as a month."

According to Ian Stephen, an experimental psychologist at Bristol University, the secret to the perfect skin tone is found in naturally occuring chemicals called carotenoids. These are a group of some 600 organic pigments found in many plants. Stephen examined the role of beta-carotene in green and orange fruit and vegetables in changing skin tone.
He asked volunteers to compare 'before and after' photographs of Caucasian people who had been asked to start a five-a-day diet.

 Stephen explained that in humans there were two pigments which had a major affect on the yellowness of fair skin: melanin and carotenoids.

The former is associated with UV exposure, the latter with certain fruits and vegetables.
He told The Sunday Times: "We found people always preferred the golden effect from diet to the darker effect from the sun."

...they are "powerful antioxidants that soak up dangerous compounds produced when the body combats diseases", according to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), which part-funded the project.

Here's another one about the same research:

New research suggests eating vegetables gives you a healthy tan. The study, led by Dr Ian Stephen at The University of Nottingham, showed that eating a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables gives you a more healthy golden glow than the sun.

The research, which showed that instead of heading for the sun the best way to look good is to munch on carrots and tomatoes, has been published in the Journal Evolution and Human Behaviour.

...people who eat more portions of fruit and vegetables per day have a more golden skin colour, thanks to substances called carotenoids. Carotenoids are antioxidants that help soak up damaging compounds produced by the stresses and strains of everyday living, especially when the body is combating disease. Responsible for the red colouring in fruit and vegetables such as carrots and tomatoes, carotenoids are important for our immune and reproductive systems.

Dr. Stephen said: "We found that, given the choice between skin colour caused by suntan and skin colour caused by carotenoids, people preferred the carotenoid skin colour, so if you want a healthier and more attractive skin colour, you are better off eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables than lying in the sun."

Dr. Stephen suggests that the study is important because evolution would favour individuals who choose to form alliances or mate with healthier individuals over unhealthy individuals.

Professor David Perrett, who heads the Perception Lab, said: "This is something we share with many other species. For example, the bright yellow beaks and feathers of many birds can be thought of as adverts showing how healthy a male bird is. What's more, females of these species prefer to mate with brighter, more coloured males. But this is the first study in which this has been demonstrated in humans."

Eating carrots, red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, pumpkin and other orange fruits and veg gives you a golden glow, particularly if you have very fair skin. Imagine, then, what drinking a gallon a week of juice made from liquified beta carotene can do!

 Who needs to tan?



Anonymous said...

Yikes! Does this mean you're going to look like John Boehner?

Anonymous said...

You're probably not at risk but be careful of vitamin A toxicity. Vitamin A is stored by our bodies so it can build up over time. We have a family friend who was told to stop eating carrots for this reason, however she was eating a lot. Her skin started to develop an orange tinge, which is one symptom.


Teresa B. said...

I remember watching (over and over agian) The Magic School Bus show where Arnold turned orange from eating too much carotene.
More embarassing for Arnold than dangerous.

I have psoriasis and for quite a while back in the 80's I was getting intense tanning (paid for by OHIP) to help with my skin condition.
I loved it! It took longer to find a parking spot at Credit Valley than to actually do the tanning 1-2 minutes tops.
Then I started hearing about skin cancer and I stopped completely and figured I could put some cortozone cream on once in a while. I was more sceptical of the cortizone than the tanning beds.
I don't have it as much now. (my scalp is the worse place)
I am glad that I stopped though I had many girlfriends who lived for the tanning beds - they would be there just prior to our bar nights.

I guess this is another reason to eat and drink carrots!

Teresa B. said...

I was just watching the news and they showed a woman in the US who is charged with bringing her 5 year old to a Tanning salon. You should see this woman! Someone commented that she looks like she has nutella on.