Ask a Scientist: Can Eating Too Many Carrots Really Turn You Orange?

The Scientist: Rebecca Scritchfield, R.D., a registered dietician and fitness expert based in Washington, D.C.

The Answer: Crazy enough, yes. Actually, eating too much of anything containing beta-carotene — which is what gives carrots their color — can cause something called carotenodermia, a condition that turns the skin yellow or orange. Sweet potatoes and butternut squash can both cause the same condition.

The reason lies in how beta-carotene breaks down in the body. After you eat it, beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin. This means that any excess of the nutrient that your body doesn’t use is stored in body fat, especially right under the skin.But a few days on a carrot-stick and hummus kick isn’t enough to tint your skin. You would have to eat very high doses of beta-carotene for an extended period of time for this to happen. Carotenidermia most often manifests in very restrictive eaters or those with eating disorders who over-consume fruits and vegetables and don’t eat enough of other foods and nutrients. Those with fair skin may notice a color change more than those with darker tones, but it can happen in any skintone.

If you’re eating beta-carotene as part of a healthy diet filled with a variety of foods, you’ll reap some big benefits without the risk of looking like an Oompa Loompa. Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant, helping protect your cells from damage, boost immunity, and protect you against a slew of diseases. It’s also important for eye health, helping prevent cataracts and macular degeneration as you age. And it’s amazing for your skin. Your body actually converts vitamin A to retinoic acid, which helps maintain collagen and prevent wrinkles — so it’s basically internal retinol. In other words, don’t skimp on orange and red veggies — they’re essential for your health and beauty, and the chances you’re eating enough to tint your skin orange are pretty slim.

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