What Is the ‘Carrot Tan’ Trending on Social Media? A Dermatologist Weighs In

Derick Alison
Derick Alison
4 Min Read

Welcome to Culture Clinic, MedPage Today’s collaboration with Northwell Health to offer a healthcare professional’s take on the latest viral medical topics.

Social media’s latest aesthetic trend? Overloading on carrots to get a quick tan.

Amid the craze, MedPage Today spoke with Silvija P. Gottesman, MD, a dermatologist at Northwell Health’s North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, to find out what exactly a “carrot tan” is.

“The carrot-like tan is not a true tan per se, but it represents an orange discoloration of the skin,” Gottesman said.

In the case of a true tan, within the epidermis, the top layer of the skin, there are cells called melanocytes that are responsible for melanin production, or pigment, Gottesman explained. Upon exposure to sunlight, there is increased production of pigment and distribution to surrounding skin cells. This leads to a visible tan minutes to hours later.

However, “carrot tan” is much different. It’s from carotenemia, Gottesman said.

Carrots are rich in a substance called beta-carotene. And eating large amounts of carrots — or other veggies known for beta-carotene like yellow squash — can lead to an elevated level of carotene in the body.

This presents as a yellow or orange-like discoloration of the skin, or carotenoderma, she said. Carotenoderma is especially prominent on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.

“There are many young adolescents who want that tan,” Gottesman said. “Some of these tanning services, the spray tans can be very costly, so if somebody offers a natural tan hack it could be perceived as very appealing.”

However, Gottesman added, “while eating vegetables is very healthy for you, everything in moderation.”

For instance, beta-carotene converts to vitamin A in the body.

People can consume preformed vitamin A from liver, fish, eggs, and dairy as well as provitamin A from fruits and veggies, Gottesman noted. Provitamin A carotenoids, including beta-carotene, are converted into vitamin A in the intestine.

If an individual has increased intake of beta-carotene, while also consuming other foods with preformed vitamin A and taking a daily multivitamin, they may be at increased risk for vitamin A toxicity, she said. But the condition is best diagnosed via blood test.

Regardless, carotenoderma “is a clinical diagnosis,” she added, “and may exist even in the absence of serologic diagnosis of vitamin A toxicity.”

As for those who pursue a true tan, whether there is chronic or low exposure to sunlight that results in a tan or sunburn, it “can be harmful in the long run,” Gottesman said.

She sees many patients with atypical moles, precancerous lesions, and skin cancer.

“We advise ample sun protection when outdoors … repeated every 2 hours,” she said. “Sometimes there’s an education gap,” she added, “which we’re trying to bridge in the clinic.”

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    Jennifer Henderson joined MedPage Today as an enterprise and investigative writer in Jan. 2021. She has covered the healthcare industry in NYC, life sciences and the business of law, among other areas.

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