The Tan Diet: Can You Eat Your Way To Glowing Skin?

I ate a diet of specific fruits and veggies for 20 days and my skin thanked me.
Publish date:
July 18, 2014
tanning, diet, kale, Carotenodermia, carotenoids, food, natural tan, pumpkin, tan, tan diet

As a sun queen trying to wean myself off of tanning, I welcome any opportunity to achieve a summer glow without chemical goo or UV rays.

It's that aim that led both myself and my roommate (Darnell Scott, who's also my primary photographer) to answer to this question: Can you get a glow by eating colorful foods?

I've read studies that claim even a subtle uptake in fruits and veggies can make you appear more "attractive." Translation: adding a larger quantity of colorful produce into your diet can result in a mild case of a relatively benign skin condition, Carotenodermia, in which the skin turns yellow or orange. I confirmed with my mommy, a nurse practitioner, that Carotenodermia is a pretty harmless condition, so I didn't have to worry about making myself ill.

Let's start with the basic info. What exactly is a carotenoid? Like terpenes and polyphenols, carotenoids are naturally occurring substances that cause coloring in plants and animals. There are a few types, such as beta carotene, lycopene, and some called xanthophylls, which are plant-based carotenoids.

Carotenoids are also antioxidants, and this specifically is a very important reason why achieving this glow is not only harmless, but can prevent harm to skin and tissues. By having a higher concentration of these organic compounds in your skin, you are further protecting your skin from the harmful effects of UV exposure. Antioxidants prevent free radicals from damaging your cells, and this particular method of protection works whether you use it topically or internally, i.e. eating it.

Eating foods that are colorful--and especially eating them raw--is good for health in many ways. Nearly all vegetables have a concentration of carotenoids, but you can custom blend your snacks to create a specific result. For example, if you're very pale, you can eat more yellow pigment-producing Lutein. Darker skin tones in need of a more intense orange or red glow can bulk up on lycopene and beta carotene.

The best part? Carotenoids are fat soluble, which means they collect in your fat cells and are also carried there by the fats you eat. So you can have your Brussels spouts and your butter, too.

For our tan diet, Darnell and I just ate all the colorful foods we could get our hands on. I'm a vegetarian, but for those who like fish, you can get carotenoids from salmon, crab, and shrimp (you know, the good fats). I ate from this list.

15 Carotenoid-Filled Foods

Raw kale

Cooked spinach

Sweet potato



Assorted bell peppers


Brussels sprouts

Green beans


Grape tomatoes





For healthy fats, we treated ourselves to avocado, grass-fed Kerrygold butter, and generous pours of EVOO.

The diet itself was very simple: eat all of these fruits and veggies over the course of a few weeks and watch as your skin takes on a new shade. Since I wanted to see the full effects of the process, and because I'm trying to reduce my UV exposure, I avoided any unnecessary time in the sun.

I tan amazingly easily, so even though I wore SPF 30 throughout the diet, I definitely had a little color change from the sun. Also, Darnell strayed from the diet a little in the last week, but other than that, we ate like veggie kings.

20-Day Tan Diet Results

I'm always happy to eat a bowl of fresh fruits or vegetables, and I definitely saw a change in my skin tone, but what do you think? Any fellow sun queens out there willing to trade their rays for more raw kale?

Photos by Darnell Scott