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What is Carotenosis?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Carotenosis is a medical condition caused by an excessive consumption of carotenoids, the compounds which make fruits and vegetables yellow, orange, or red. When someone develops carotenosis, his or her skin turns yellowish to orange, but typically no other ill effects are observed. Although the condition is itself benign, it can be a sign of malnutrition, and most people seek treatment because they would prefer more normally-hued skin. It is a rather eye-catching condition which tends to attract unwanted attention.

This condition affects fair-skinned people, as the reduced melanin in their skin makes the yellow staining more visible. One of the most common causes of carotenosis is an excessive consumption of multivitamins or carrots. If you've ever heard the story that too many carrots can turn you orange, now you know that this is, in fact, true. This condition is also very common in people with eating disorders, as they may take vitamin supplements in an attempt to get the vitamins they need, or they may regard carrots as a “safe” food, eating high volumes of them in lieu of other foods.

The treatment for carotenosis is simple: cut down on the carotene. Cutting down on the consumption of carrots and switching multivitamins can usually resolve the issue, although it may take time for the yellow color to fade as the body slowly absorbs the excess carotene and converts it to retinal, a form of vitamin A. Medical intervention is not usually required, unless the condition is associated with malnutrition or an eating disorder.

If the carotenosis is caused by an imbalanced diet, it is a good idea to consult a nutritionist, especially in the case of prolonged malnutrition. Dietary imbalances sometimes require several steps to correct, as people may not be able to bounce back into a normal diet. The services of a psychologist may also be required, in the event the malnutrition is associated with an eating disorder.

Carotenosis and jaundice are sometimes confused, because both turn the skin yellowish to orange. However, in cases of true jaundice, the whites of the eyes also turn yellow. Jaundice does require medical intervention, as it can be a symptom of a fatal medical condition such as liver failure. As always, it is better to be safe than sorry, and a doctor will certainly not scold a patient for seeking medical attention for carotenosis under the mistaken impression that he or she has jaundice.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board 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
By strawCake — On May 05, 2012

I had no idea you could get this condition from multivitamins, but I'm not completely surprised. A lot of multivitamins have way more than the 100% daily value of certain vitamins. And I know tons of people who go way overboard taking their vitamins.

I think it would be easy to get too much of a lot of different vitamins. And unfortunately, some vitamins just sit in your system if you get too much of them and cause problems. Like carotenosis!

By KaBoom — On May 05, 2012

@indemnifyme - I've never heard of fruitarianism either, but I'm not surprised. There are too many wacky diets out there for me to keep track of!

Anyway, I actually have a friend that developed carotenosis. The way it happened was kind of funny, actually. My friend started to become near sighted, and she really, really didn't want to go to the eye doctor and get glasses or contacts.

So she started eating tons of carrots, because supposedly carrots are good for your eyes. Unfortunately, the carrots didn't help her eyesight one bit. So now she has contacts, and she's waiting for the orange hue to fade from her skin.

By indemnifyme — On May 04, 2012

@anamur - Fruitarianism? I've never heard of this, but I don't see how you could get all your nutrients just from eating fruit! I'm kind of glad your friend developed a skin condition. Maybe now she'll incorporate some other healthy foods into her diet.

Anyway, I'm glad to know that I'm not in any danger of developing carotenosis from consuming things with too much beta-carotene in them. I hate carrots! I hate them raw, I hate them cooked, and I hate them juiced. Also I eat a pretty balanced diet, so I don't think I have excessive amounts of anything in my system right now!

By burcidi — On May 03, 2012
@fify-- The reason that carotenosis could be due to a deficiency is because beta carotene is usually converted to vitamin A in the body. But if you have a deficiency in something like zinc, protein or a hormone, your body might not be making the conversion.

Everything is connected to everything else. A deficiency in one thing can affect the enzyme that converts beta carotene to vitamin A. This leads to an excess amount of beta carotene in the body which makes the skin yellow or orange.

That's why you should see a doctor and have a blood test done to make sure everything else is okay. And you don't need to cut out foods with beta carotene out of your diet. You shouldn't do that because like you said, you still need the nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants they provide.

You might need to eat less of them for a while. And meanwhile you should try to find out if there is an underlying cause for your carotenosis.

By fify — On May 03, 2012

I have carotenosis. I didn't see a doctor but my skin has an orangish tint to it lately and I have been eating a lot of apricots, oranges and carrots the past couple of weeks. So this has to be it.

I know it's not a dangerous condition, but is it right to just stop eating these foods? Does this mean that I can't eat them as much or I'll turn orange? Won't this cause other problems because I won't be getting the vitamins and antioxidants they provide?

The article mentioned the link between carotenosis and other deficiencies but I don't really understand that. How do you infer that I have a deficiency in something else because of carotenosis? I'm confused. Anyone know?

By serenesurface — On May 02, 2012

@anon101832-- Yea, you're right. I think many vegetarians, vegans and others strictly eating raw food develop this over time. Because they tend to consume more beta carotene than most.

My friend developed carotenosis recently because of an all fruit diet. She read about "fruitarianism" and its benefits for the body and converted overnight. At one point, all she was eating throughout the day were bananas. Slowly her skin started turning more and more yellow.

She was totally freaked out and went to the doctor, I was actually with her. It was so surprising! Who would have thought eating too many bananas could make your skin yellow!

By anon101832 — On Aug 05, 2010

This carotenosis article is very good, but vegetarians are not mentioned! The reason for my carotenosis is because of my vegetarian diet.

Thanks anyway.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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