What Are the Most Common Causes of Orange Skin?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Eating carrots and other foods rich in carotene may cause people to have orange skin.
Eating carrots and other foods rich in carotene may cause people to have orange skin.

The most common causes of orange skin are carotenemia, a usually benign condition where people ingest too much beta carotene and their bodies cannot clear it quickly enough, and jaundice, a symptom of liver dysfunction. Skin discolorations can also develop in association with tanning and with some chronic diseases including liver and kidney dysfunction. If a patient develops orange skin, the doctor can perform an evaluation to determine the cause and recommend a treatment.

Spray tan products may turn a person's skin orange.
Spray tan products may turn a person's skin orange.

In people with carotenemia, too much carotene is ingested, a result of eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables like carrots. This is not necessarily harmful for the patient, but can result in an alarming skin color. Babies commonly develop this condition, as do vegetarians. People can adjust their diets to give their bodies more time to clear the carotene and their skin should clear up. Very high doses of carotene are also sometimes used in the treatment of medical conditions, and patients on these doses will develop carotenemia.

People who eat large quantities of fruits and vegetables high in carotene may briefly have orange-tinted skin.
People who eat large quantities of fruits and vegetables high in carotene may briefly have orange-tinted skin.

People with anorexia nervosa, liver or kidney disease, diabetes, and hypothyroid conditions can also sometimes develop carotenemia, even if they aren't eating unusually large numbers of colorful vegetables. In these patients, the body is less able to metabolize the carotene, and orange skin can appear on a relatively normal diet. While the discoloration is not harmful, it is an indicator of an underlying issue in need of treatment or better management.

Jaundice is a symptom of liver dysfunction.
Jaundice is a symptom of liver dysfunction.

Jaundice can also cause orange skin. People can differentiate between jaundice, a sign of a serious problem with the liver, and carotenemia by the presence of orange to yellow discoloration in the eyes. Patients with jaundice will develop a yellowish tint in their eyes as a result of the deposition of bilirubin, a pigment the liver cannot adequately clear when it is diseased. Jaundice can appear in people of all ages and requires treatment.

People with anorexia nervosa may develop carotenemia.
People with anorexia nervosa may develop carotenemia.

Finally, tanning sometimes causes orange skin. Self-tanning products infamously have a tendency to turn the skin orange, and it is advisable to do a test patch with the product before applying it to the whole body to see how it interacts with the underlying skin color. Spending a lot of time in a tanning booth can also cause an orangish discoloration, depending on what kinds of lotions and creams the patient is using. Generally, changing tanning products is enough to resolve the condition, although there may be a few days or weeks of aesthetic discomfort while the orange wears off.

Developing Orange Skin From Carrots 

Carrots are one of the main culprits of carotenemia. Carotenemia develops due to high levels of beta-carotene in the bloodstream. Beta-carotene is a plant pigment that, once consumed, assists the body in making vitamin A, an essential nutrient that promotes bone growth and healthy eyes and helps the body fight off infections. Beta-carotene is what gives carrots and other fruits and vegetables their orange, reddish or violet tint. Carrots are very rich in beta-carotene, so eating too many can cause carotenemia, which is visible through the skin.

Here are more foods rich in the pigment:

  • Mangoes
  • Oranges
  • Yams
  • Cantaloupe
  • Pumpkins

The condition only develops after eating large amounts of beta-carotene-rich fruits and vegetables for an extended period. To put it in perspective, one medium-size carrot has 4 milligrams of beta-carotene. For the tint to develop, you would need to consume 20 to 50 milligrams of the plant pigment daily for a few weeks. A situation where carotenemia can easily form is with a picky baby, only willing to eat carrots or sweet potatoes.

Fortunately, the condition is easy to treat, as all you need to do is drastically cut out eating beta-carotene-rich foods. The discoloration will eventually fade.

Orange Discoloration on Hands

The excess beta-carotene is carried in the bloodstream, and carotenemia develops once the pigment latches onto the skin. The pigment likes to latch on areas of thick skin. So, this means the orange discoloration often shows up on areas where we have the thickest skin, like the hands and palms.

If you have orange discoloration on your hands, but do not have a diet rich in beta-carotene, then consider the reasoning might be from an underlying medical condition. Some possible culprits are:

  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Hypothyroidism, or decreased function of the thyroid gland
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertriglyceridemia, or high levels of fat in the blood

It is best to discuss your skin’s discoloration and any other possible symptoms with your healthcare provider, as they will run any necessary tests.

The Reasoning Behind Anorexia Skin Discoloration

Anorexia is a severe type of eating disorder in which people face a distorted perception of their body weight, leading to a dangerously low-calorie diet. People who suffer from the condition have an intense fear of gaining weight. As a result, they have a relentless desire to be thin, even at the cost of their mental and physical health.

Here are behaviors and symptoms associated with the disorder:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Skipping meals
  • Avoid public eating
  • Compulsively exercise
  • Binging or purging
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Hair loss
  • Skin discoloration

The skin discoloration associated with anorexia is also due to carotenemia. Anorexic people tend to have “safe” foods, meaning a go-to snack or meal. Here is where carrots or another beta-carotene-filled fruit or vegetable come into play. For example, carrots are a low-calorie vegetable that makes them appealing to someone suffering from this disorder. They are a quick snack and easy to eat in abundance, therefore, offering the possibility of developing carotenemia.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

popcorn

Does anyone know how long it takes for carotenemia to wear off once you stop eating products with lots of carotene in it?

I have stopped eating carrots and sweet potatoes, but think the orange tint to my skin may stick around awhile, but I am really not sure.

animegal

If you have purchased tanning cream and are traumatized due to the now orange color of your skin it is possible to get rid of it before you have to make an unsightly public appearance.

If you have just done the tan, using some makeup remover may help you remove the tanner so that your orange skin goes back to normal.

If this doesn’t work you may have to move on to a few harsher chemicals, especially on your hands and feet. As these areas tend to collect more tanning lotion.

If you have hydrogen peroxide around your house, use this on a cotton ball to wipe away the orange. Always test a small patch of skin first though, as it can be irritating to some people.

Finally you can give body hair bleach a try. This is the kind you use to bleach hair on your upper lip. Put it on the skin for 10 minutes then rinse it off.

Good luck, and you may have to try these treatments more than once. Orange can be very stubborn on your skin.

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    • Eating carrots and other foods rich in carotene may cause people to have orange skin.
      By: LoloStock
      Eating carrots and other foods rich in carotene may cause people to have orange skin.
    • Spray tan products may turn a person's skin orange.
      By: Ammentorp
      Spray tan products may turn a person's skin orange.
    • People who eat large quantities of fruits and vegetables high in carotene may briefly have orange-tinted skin.
      By: bit24
      People who eat large quantities of fruits and vegetables high in carotene may briefly have orange-tinted skin.
    • Jaundice is a symptom of liver dysfunction.
      By: Sebastian Kaulitzki
      Jaundice is a symptom of liver dysfunction.
    • People with anorexia nervosa may develop carotenemia.
      By: cocolima
      People with anorexia nervosa may develop carotenemia.