Dermatologist Warns Against Carotenoid Supplements for Tanned Skin

  • TikTok creator Carter Gottlieb went viral for saying he got a tan thanks to carotenoid supplements.
  • Carotenoid supplements include beta-carotene and lycopene, but we don’t know if they are safe.
  • There are safer ways to get tanner skin, such as a self-tanning lotion or spray.

In October, a TikTok creator went viral for sharing how he got tanned, glowing skin without going out in the sun.

“I live like a vampire and I don’t look like dough,” Carter Gottlieb said in a recent video which has been viewed more than 3 million times. Gottlieb said the secret to her glow is taking carotenoid supplements.

“I didn’t necessarily choose them for their color, but for their protective effects,” Gottleib, a medical student and doctoral student at Saint Louis University, told Insider. In his video, Gottleib quoted research which theorizes that carotenoid supplements may help protect skin against certain sun damage. “Then people started noticing the color it added to my skin,” Gottleib said.

While it’s true that ingesting carotenoid supplements can alter skin color, it can also be risky for your health, said Dr. Homer Black, professor emeritus in the department of dermatology at Baylor University.

Carotenoids give their color to fruits and vegetables

Carotenoids are pigments that give their color to fruits, vegetables and algae. They also function as antioxidants and can help delay cell damage.

There is more of 600 types of carotenoidsbut perhaps the most famous is beta-carotene, found in foods like squash, peppers and carrots.

Earlier this year, another TikTok creator went viral for saying she got a “natural fake tan” by eating three large carrots a day – a skin condition called carotenemia and caused by excessive consumption of beta-carotene.

Gottleib said he tried beta-carotene supplements but found they gave his skin “a very strange color.”

Instead, Gottleib takes the carotenoids lycopene and astaxanthin, which have a red pigment that Gottleib says gives it a more natural glow.

Lycopene is also found naturally in many types of fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes. Astaxanthin is derived from a species of freshwater algae.

The science on carotenoid supplements is still unclear

Although taking carotenoid supplements can change skin color, Black told Insider he wouldn’t recommend it. There is not enough scientific evidence that these supplements are safe to take.

Certain carotenoids have been linked to serious health problems. Beta-carotene supplements in particular have been linked to higher cases of lung cancer among smokers or those who have been exposed to asbestos, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Beta-carotene is an important dietary nutrient,” Black said. But “I wouldn’t recommend adding a large amount of beta-carotene that would change the color of your skin, because I think the risk of adverse effects is probably too great.”

For other supplements like lycopene, Black said, “the jury is still out” on safety — so it’s best to play it safe.

If you still want to have a glow, try using an FDA-approved product. self-tanning product like a lotion or spray, which covers the outer layer of your skin.

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