Can Eating Too Many Carrots Turn Your Skin Orange?

The surprising effects of carotenemia
Chef washing carrots under water for food prep

When it comes to eating carrots and other beta-carotene rich foods, you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing. So good that you can actually develop a condition called carotenemia.

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According to dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD, carotenemia is caused by having too much beta-carotene in your blood steam. You know beta-carotenes as the pigment in certain red, orange and yellow fruits and veggies.

“Eating too many beta-carotene filled foods can turn your skin an orangey color,” explains Dr. Piliang. “Carotenemia is pretty uncommon, but we probably see one or two cases a year.” 

Some of the most popular beta-carotene filled foods include:

  • Apricots.
  • Cantaloupe.
  • Carrots.
  • Mangoes.
  • Oranges.
  • Pumpkin.
  • Squash.
  • Sweet potatoes.
  • Yams.

But developing carotenemia isn’t always just from eating warm-colored produce. Other foods like apples, cabbage, leafy greens, kiwi, asparagus and even sometimes eggs and cheese can have it.

It’s important to note that carotenemia is usually the culprit of a restrictive diet or from eating large amounts of a specific food. This type of eating can put you at risk for getting too much and too little of certain nutrients.  

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“You would need to be eating about 20 to 50 milligrams of beta-carotenes per day for a few weeks to raise your levels enough to see skin discoloration,” says Dr. Piliang. “One medium carrot has about 4 milligrams of beta-carotene in it. So if you’re eating 10 carrots a day for a few weeks you could develop it.” 

Eating a well-balanced diet ensures that you are eating all of the right nutrients ― in the right amount.

But how does your skin actually turn orange?

The excess beta-carotenes in your blood latch onto areas of the body that have thicker skin, like the palms, soles, knees, elbows and folds around the nose, says Dr. Piliang. These are the first areas that people typically notice turning an orange shade. And it can be more obvious in lighter-skinned people. Skin discoloration will continue to darken as you eat more beta-carotene rich foods.

Carotenemia’s typically diagnosed by reviewing diet history and testing the levels in the blood.   

Carotenemia is not dangerous

Treatment is simple: Simply decrease the amount of beta-carotene rich foods that you consume. Skin discoloration will usually start to fade and return to normal in a few months.

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“Little kids may be at higher risk for developing carotenemia because of pureed baby foods like squash and carrots,” says Dr. Piliang. “But there is no risk or danger to having it.” 

Still — if you notice more of a yellow hue to your skin or something just doesn’t look right, get it checked out. Kidney disease, jaundice, thyroid disease, diabetes and anorexia can all cause skin discoloration.

With carotenemia, the whites of the eyes should stay white, unlike jaundice where the whites of the eyes take on a yellow tint.

Carotenemia is the perfect example of too much of a good thing. Instead focus on a well-balanced diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and complex carbs. If you notice any sort of discoloration of your skin and it doesn’t clear up within a few days, make an appointment to see your doctor.

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