Can carrots give you a natural, sunless tan? Beauty TikTok definitely thinks so. With videos circulating claiming that eating three large carrots a day will make your skin naturally tanner, we take a look at carotenemia and bust the myth of the carrot tan.
Creators claiming to have obtained a beautiful, golden glow from upping their carrot intake are actually referencing a well-known skin condition called carotenemia. But the primary symptom isn’t a natural looking tan.
Carotenemia turns your skin orange.
Carrots are rich in a pigment called beta-carotene, a rich red-orange that’s abundant in a lot of different plants and fungi. When we consume beta-carotene, our bodies convert it to Vitamin A. But if there’s too much, we can’t convert all that pigment and the excess gets circulated into our bloodstream.
With enough of that extra pigment being added over a long enough period of time, your skin will start to take on an orange, jaundice-like hue. Cleveland, OH dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD says it’s a harmless condition with a super simple treatment: just reduce the amount of beta-carotene you’re consuming.
“Eating too many beta-carotene filled foods can turn your skin an orangey color,” explains Dr. Piliang. “Little kids may be at higher risk for developing carotenemia because of pureed baby foods like squash and carrots, but there is no risk or danger to having it.”
Montclair, NJ dermatologist Jeanine Downie, MD notes that a carrot tan is often a result of a fad diet. “Carotenemia is a benign condition from overeating carrots or squash and you can see the yellowing in the creases in the palms of the hands first, but it can tint the skin orange,” Downie explains. “This is not recommended and not a good fad to follow. Everyone needs to eat a healthy balanced diet and I recommend the Mediterranean diet first and foremost.”
What Does it Take to Get a Carrot Tan?
This condition is more common in children, but it’s still possible for adults to develop a ‘carrot tan,’ from consuming too much beta-carotene. But how much does it actually take?
According to Dr. Piliang, you need a lot of carrots to be consistently in your diet for a carrot tan to trigger and last. “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.”
It’s more easily noticeable in people with lighter skin, and it changes the skin primarily on the palms, soles, knees and elbows.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a carrot tan can be easily mistaken for jaundice, which sees the skin and eyes take on a yellowish hue. It is always associated with an underlying condition, like liver disease, and if left untreated, it can result in serious health concerns, including brain damage.
You can easily tell a carrot tan from jaundice by the appearance of the eyes, which become yellowed with jaundice and remain white with carotenemia.