Consumers could soon be told to swap the sunbed in favour of fruit and veg after scientists found eating heavily pigmented produce such as carrots, plums and peaches made people appear more attractive.

Researchers at St Andrews and Bristol universities studied the relationship between skin colour and attractiveness, and found people with a yellow skin hue were perceived as particularly healthy and attractive. They also established for the first time that yellow pigments (carotenoids) from certain fruit and veg played a key role in producing yellowness in skin.

As part of the study, 40 volunteers rated 51 Scottish Caucasian faces for healthiness and attractiveness.

The results will be published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior in March and the researchers will set out the importance of yellowness in black skin with volunteers from South Africa in a paper later this year.

Ian Stephen, one of the scientists involved in the project, said the link between yellowness and carotenoids opened up new strategies for encouraging young people to eat more fruit and veg, especially as it took just two months of increased fruit and veg consumption to produce visible results. "Telling people they might have a heart attack in 40 years' time if they don't eat more healthily is one thing. What we can do is say 'this is what you could look in a couple of months if you increased your fruit and veg intake."

South African Fruit has launched a website to promote its peaches, nectarines and plums off the back of the research.