The human face is a reflection of internal well-being; beauty may be indeed in the eye of the beholder, but what makes a face attractive, young or beautiful may have more to do with hue rather than symmetry. Recent research may have you seeing red because this vibrant hue is an evolutionary cue of vitality; in fact, our brains are wired to recognize rosy red faces as a sign of health and vigor. So how can one achieve a natural rosy glow that lasts?

Blushing bride; rosy cheeked-baby; and English rose are all terms to describe the picture of health and vitality. Red is an amazingly emotional color conjuring feelings of anger, love, embarrassment, fear and domination. Human studies show that seeing red can influence behaviors; red clothing is a "power color" and considered sexy on women (Jezebel!) and several sports studies have shown that competitors who wear red are more likely to win. In addition, red has a strong association with sexuality. Anthropologists suggest that women from 10,000 BC used red-plant pigments as rouge and "lipstick" to symbolize fertility and attractiveness.

In the mid 19th and early 20th centuries, demure women would resort to cheek pinching and teeth raking to bring a rosy glow to face and lips. Who can forget the timeless Gone With the Wind scene when Scarlet O'Hara pinches her cheeks to get a rosy glow just as Rhett arrives unexpectedly? Pinching brings blood to the surface, giving a healthy hue, but the color doesn't last long. Rosy hues can be heightened by exercise and regular gym-goers often exit the exercise palace with a healthy pallor that lasts far beyond the hour-long spinning class.

In humans, high levels of oxygenated blood provide a rosy luminescence that is a sign of aerobic fitness and cardiovascular health. Study after study has shown that human eyes have the incredible capacity to discern even the slightest change in pallor; photos manipulated to enhance red or blue tones consistently show that faces with red undertones are perceived as more attractive, younger, healthier and vibrant...these results were especially true for women and occur regardless of ethnicity.

Pale complexions can be revived with some simple tips that increase oxygen flow and hydration. The key to a healthy hue is to care for the skin, both from the outside...and the inside.

Tips to Get Glowing:

  • Stay out of the sun or use sunscreen.Sun exposure can produce rosy cheeks, but it can cause long-term skin damage that's hard to reverse. Quelling the sun's aging rays is a must to keep skin smooth, hydrated and clear. Peter Thomas Roth of the cosmetic company of the same name says, "Sunscreen all year ‘round is a must to keep skin healthy. The face and hands are particularly vulnerable to the elements." And it's no wonder...our faces and hands are exposed to sun, pollution, water and harsh environmental temperature changes. Sunscreen can hydrate and protect skin from the elements, so use it regularly.
  • Get plenty of dietary vitamin D. Our bodies make vitamin D from sunlight, but sunscreen can block this action. So include vitamin D rich, low fat dairy into your diet..or consider a supplement. But don't over do; vitamin D can be toxic in high levels.
  • Try a skin-oxygenating product. Oxygenating serums are packed with plant extracts, vitamins and other anti-aging compounds that work with oxygen-carrying emulsions to deliver oxygen to the skin surface and beyond. According to Peter Thomas Roth, "Such products bathe the underlying skin cells in nutrients and encourage new skin cells; they also enhance facial color, giving a rosy glow." 
  • Get regular aerobic exercise to encourage blood flow to the face and body tissues. Wear Lycra and other supportive fabrics/garments to keep skin from sagging due to repeated mechanical movements. E.g.: wear a good support bra if you run!
  • Keep clean. Shower after exercising. Exfoliate regularly to encourage new skin cell growth; and use a cleanser that's right for your skin type. Moisturize, moisturize!

Feeding Your Skin From the Inside Out:

  • Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants than can improve skin tone and texture and reduce the signs of aging. Many plant pigments also have the effect of "coloring" the skin. Carotenoids, found in orange, red and deep green produce, lodge in the fat layer just under the skin so over consumption can make one look like an orange orb, however, 5 servings a day improve skin texture and glow. Spinach is a great skin-friendly food; loaded with folic acid and iron for oxygen transport, this green leafy should be included in most diets.*
  • Nuts, seeds and legumes oh my. Rich in skin-healing minerals like zinc and magnesium coupled with omega 3 fats for pliable skin, a handful of nuts or seeds each day helps keep skin clear and supple.
  • Something fishy. Salmon or other omega 3 fatty acid rich foods act as internal skin emollients 
  • Whole grains. Whole grains are excellent sources of B vitamins that are required for new skin growth.
  • Spicy times. Cinnamon, curry and other spices are packed with skin-nourishing anti-oxidants.
  • Water. Nothing hydrates or flushes skin toxins better than water.

*spinach is rich in vitamin K; some individuals with blood disorders need to limit vitamin K.  As with all dietary and exercise recommendations, check with your doctor first!

Armstrong, N., & Welsman, J.R. 2001.European Journal of Applied Physiology, 85,546-51.

Darvin, M. et al. 2008. Cutaneous concentration of lycopene correlates significantly with the roughness of the skin. European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics, 69,943-7.

Draelos, Z.D. 2010. Nutrition and enhancing youthful-appearing skin. Clinics in Dermatology, 28,400-8.

Matts, P.J., et al. 2007. Color homogeneity and visual perception of age, health, and attractiveness of female facial skin. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 57,97784.

Purba, M., et al. 2001. Skin wrinkling: can food make a difference? Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 20,71-80.

Re, D.E., et al. 2011. Oxygenated-blood colour change thresholds for perceived facial redness, health and attractiveness. Public Library of Science, 6, e17859.

Samson, N., Fink, B., Matts, P.J. 2010. Visible skin condition and perception of human facial appearance. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 32,167-84.

Stanulis-Praeger, B.M., & Gilchrest, B.A. 1986. Growth factor responsiveness declines during adulthood for human skin derived cells. Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, 35,185-98.

Stephen, I.D., et al. 2009. Skin blood perfusion and oxygenation colour affect perceived human health. Public Library of Science, 4,e5083.

Stephen, I.D., et al. 2009. Facial skin coloration affects perceived health of human faces. International Journal of Primatology, 30,845-57.

About the Author

Martina M. Cartwright

Martina M. Cartwright, Ph.D., R.D., is an adjunct professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Arizona and an independent biomedical consultant.

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