How does eating carrots change your skin color?

Carrot is one of the most nutritious vegetables in nature. Low in calories and saturated with vitamin A (retinol), falcarinol, minerals, and antioxidants, it is essential for our health. The orange color of carrot is due to the presence of carotenoids, a group of lipid-soluble compounds. The major component of carotenoids is a chemical named beta-carotene, which protects our skin from the damage caused by ultraviolet rays from the sun. This pigment is normally found in red, orange, or yellow vegetables and fruits. Some common fruits and vegetables that contain this pigment are mangoes, oranges, apricots, sweet potatoes, peas and, most abundantly, carrots.

Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the liver. The vitamin is necessary for healthy eyes and reproduction. The carotenoids, including carotene, contribute to the natural color of human skin.

However, as the old saying goes, too many carrots can turn you orange. Yes, that is true. Eating an excessive amount of carrots can cause a person’s color to turn to a yellow-orange shade, a condition named carotenosis. Also known in the names of carotenemia, xanthemia, and xanthosis, the state arises from the frequent consumption of carrots, usually the daily drinking of carrot juice. It is mostly found in vegetarians and young children and most apparent in light-skinned people due to the less amount of melanin.

Infants who are starting to take in solid food are often fed with an excessive amount of vegetables, including carrots which may result in carotenosis. People regard carrot as safe food, which prompts them to consume it in more than necessary amounts. Although, it would take a considerable amount of carrot intake to turn the skin orange. It usually differs from person to person, but on average it would take 51 milligrams (about ten carrots) of beta carotene a day, eaten for two weeks, to turn the skin orange.

Usually, the carotene is converted into Vitamin A in the liver. But the increased intake of carrots raises the levels of carotene in the blood. This carotene is carried in plasma to the peripheral tissues of our body. The excess amount is then stored in the fat under our skin and secreted through sweat resulting in the yellow-orange pigmentation on the skin. The color will appear most prominently on the nose, the palms of hands and the soles of feet, where the skin layer is comparatively thicker. However, the yellowish color does not appear on the sclera, the white of the eyes, as it does in patients with jaundice. The higher the intake of carrots, the more visible the yellow-orangish color would be.

Carotenosis is generally a harmless condition. It doesn’t produce any other ill effects and can be solved by cutting back the consumption of carrots. The levels of carotene in blood will drop quickly even though the skin may take several weeks to change back to normal color due to the carotene accumulated in the tissues.

People can also develop carotenosis upon taking excessive supplements of beta-carotene. Carotenosis is a harmful medical condition called hypervitaminosis A. It can be accompanied by symptoms, such as blurred vision, dizziness, and bone pain. Immediate medical consultation is suggested in these cases.