Can Eating Certain Foods Help You Tan?

Sun-kissed skin from food

While tanning pills, nasal sprays and other influencer-promoted sunless products pop up on social media feeds, they can be a waste of money. And some may even be harmful. Luckily, if you’re trying to look tan, you can eat everyday foods to “cheat” your way into a sun-kissed glow without basking in the potentially damaging ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun. Well, sort of.

First, know that a true “food tan” does not exist. But there are foods and drinks that can slightly change your skin tone to make it look like you just returned from a beachy vacation — or at least give your skin (your largest organ!) a healthier appearance.

Fruits and vegetables are at the top of the list thanks to their carotenoids, which are naturally occurring red, orange and yellow pigments. Studies indicate that increased intake of carotenoid-rich foods can lead to a normal golden yellow appearance in Caucasians (light skinned people) within about six weeks due to accumulation of carotenoids in all layers of the skin. If you’re getting plenty of produce, your skin is likely already luminous.

There are also other foods that can help with your skin’s tone. Here’s a list of skin-glowing foods and beverages.


Carrots and carrot juice are well known for their bevy of beta-carotene.

According to registered dietitian nutritionist Patricia Bannan, author of “From Burnout to Balance” and founder of Wellness Intelligence™, “Carrots are a front-runner in the chase for a natural glow.” Bannan points to their beta-carotene, which she says imparts a warm, golden hue as it accumulates in the skin.

In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that consuming high levels of carotenoid-rich foods is associated with skin color that’s like nature’s blush. But be careful.

“Overindulgence can lead to carotenemia, where the skin takes on (too much of a) yellow-orange tint, eerily similar to jaundice,” says Bannan.

Other beta-carotene-rich picks:

— Sweet potatoes

— Spinach

— Butternut squash

— Cantaloupe


Think pink. There’s a red-orange pigmented carotenoid called astaxanthin found in salmon, providing its distinct pink-ish tone. It’s an overall superstar for skin health, scientifically linked to improving the condition of all skin layers. While there’s no definitive research that eating astaxanthin-containing foods can lead to reddish-orange skin, indulging in large quantities may theoretically do this.

Astaxanthin also seems to have anti-wrinkle properties, according to research. In addition, studies indicate that it may offer protection from UV damage, which at minimum can make your skin look happier. As a bonus, salmon contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

“Consuming omega-3s from fatty fish may help make sunburn less severe,” says Lisa Drayer, award-winning nutritionist and author of “The Beauty Diet.”

Other astaxanthin-rich picks:

— Algae

— Red yeast

— Shrimp

— Crawfish

Tomato paste

Tomatoes get their vivid red color from lycopene. Tomato paste provides a powerhouse of this red carotenoid.

“Lycopene not only can protect skin from environmental agents but may also add a richer tone and healthier glow to your complexion,” says Bannan.

Drayer adds, “research suggests that lycopene, an antioxidant pigment in tomato paste, may play a role in protecting against sunburn.”

And a study in the British Journal of Dermatology finds dietary lycopene may significantly boost your skin’s defense against UV damage.

Enjoying lycopene-rich foods, like tomato products, is “like wearing a bit of the sun, without the harmful rays,” says Bannan.

Other lycopene-rich picks:

— Sun-dried tomatoes.

— Guava

— Red grapefruit


Wheat germ oil

Wheat germ oil is rich in the skin-friendly vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin.

Getting enough of this “vitamin of youth” in your diet seems to be photoprotective, meaning it may prevent skin damage caused by the sun, according to research. And, according to a 2021 review study, the combination of vitamin E with vitamin C may help prevent sunburn, which means you’ll look radiant without redness.

What’s more, wheat germ oil is a source of omega-3s.

“These plant-based omega-3s prevent moisture loss from cells, which keeps skin soft and supple,” says Drayer.

Other vitamin E picks:

— Sunflower seeds

— Almonds

— Hazelnuts



Vitamin C plays a key role in skin health, including keeping it smooth and elastic.

“Citrus fruits, like oranges, are an excellent source of vitamin C, which protects against sun damage that can contribute to skin aging,” says Drayer. “Higher intakes of the vitamin may be associated with fewer wrinkles.”

According to Keri Gans, registered dietitian nutritionist, author of “The Small Change Diet” and podcast host of The Keri Report, “vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that helps protect your body from the damage of free radicals and boosts collagen production. Both are important for healthy, glowing skin.”

Other vitamin C picks:

— Strawberries

— Kiwifruit

— Red bell peppers

— Broccoli


Don’t forget about fungi. Mushrooms offer a variety of bioactive compounds that may help combat skin aging, according to a 2024 study.

“They contain a B vitamin known as PABA (or para aminobenzoic acid),” says Gans. “PABA may help naturally protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. However, wearing actual sunscreen is still advised.”

Consider cooking up some shiitakes, which are also rich in copper to help maintain skin proteins.

Other PABA (vitamin B10) picks:

Whole grains

— Brewer’s yeast

— Molasses

— Spinach

Foods to brighten or lighten skin

What if you naturally have darker skin that you want to brighten? Or perhaps you have an uneven skin tone that you want to improve?

What you eat may play a role in brightening and lightening your skin. The carotenoid pigments lutein and zeaxanthin, which you find in egg yolks, kale, yellow corn and parsley, may help do this — or at least research suggests this in its supplemental form.

Tan-boosting meals to make

If you want your skin to be naturally radiant or seem a bit bronze, become a high vegetable and fruit consumer. Aim for a wide variety of the foods mentioned rather than focusing on just one or two, and pair them in delicious meals.

Try these ideas:

— Indulge in a fresh “glow bowl” topped with naval orange segments and toasted almonds.

— Make a sesame stir-fry that includes shiitakes and carrots.

— Grill Grecian-style salmon and red bell pepper skewers and serve on a bed of sautéed spinach.

— Toss whole-grain linguine with sun-dried tomato pesto and roasted broccoli florets.

— Whirl up snack-time smoothies using various seasonal fruit and vegetable favorites.

Bottom line

It’s not just diet that matters here. Being physically active does, too. The higher your fitness level and lower your body fat percent are, the healthier your skin color may be, according to some studies.

Remember that that no food, beverage, pill, potion, lotion or spray can truly do exactly what our sun offers. Plus, catching some rays can help boost vitamin D in the body, so totally avoiding it is not an ideal goal. But diet (and exercise!) may offer a skin tone assist — and without the potentially harmful UV radiation from soaking up too much sun.

More from U.S. News

11 Best Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Best Foods to Eat for Gut Health

Surprising Factors That Increase Sun Sensitivity

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