My baby's skin is orange!

Our eight-month-old nephew has taken on a sort of orangish color. My sister has not noticed this, and we wanted to know if it is something to be concerned about.

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Your question is an excellent one. It is also a phenomenon that many parents have seen occur in their children as they go through the "baby food stages." It reminds me of a picture I have of my two boys taken when my older one was almost three and my younger one was nine months old. On one side, the older one with a relative pale complexion sits next to his brother who (with a large grin) looks like a big carrot.

And the reference to the carrot is not by mistake because it is the love of vegetables that turned his skin what some grandmothers might call "that healthy-orange-glow." That orange color comes from the beta-carotene found in many vegetables. The beta-carotene itself has an orange color which gets deposited in the skin thus giving it the same yellow-orange tint. Some of these vegetables are obvious sources of beta-carotene because of their yellow or orange color (e.g. carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, etc.) However, many other dark green vegetables may also carry a good amount of beta-carotene.

Beta-carotene is the precursor to Vitamin A. For infants, the main source of Vitamin A is not actually Vitamin A itself but rather this precursor. Animals (including humans) convert this beta-carotene to Vitamin A. This is an important distinction because the ingestion of too much Vitamin A can be harmful whereas very large amounts of beta-carotene can be consumed without any problem. This is due to the fact that the body will only convert as much beta-carotene to Vitamin A as it needs. The excess beta-carotene is simply unused and gives the characteristic skin color. The skin color goes away when less beta-carotene is eaten.

John, I suspect your nephew simply loves his vegetables particularly the orange-yellow and dark green kind. Of course, there are certain diseases which can cause the skin to turn yellow. However, these can usually be distinguished by the fact that children with jaundice from disease are usually sick and the whites of their eyes are also yellow. Orange color due to vegetables generally does not significantly change the whites of the eyes. If there is any concern, I would certainly confirm the cause of the child's skin color with his doctor.

I hope this helps.

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