Can you tan without sun by taking carotene pills?

Dear Cecil:

I have enclosed an advertisement from a German magazine telling how one can tan easily without the sun by taking a certain product containing "carotin," the chemical that gives the carrot its color. The stuff is sold over the counter, and no doubt has found a sizable market with sun-worshipping Germans. My question is this: if this is such a brilliant idea, why hasn't it made its way over to our side of the globe? With all the talk about how exposure to the sun can cause skin cancer, wouldn't this be a reasonable, safe solution?

Cecil replies:

You gotta be kidding. What’s involved here is one of two chemicals, canthaxanthine or beta-carotene, which are synthetic versions of the natural colorants found in carrots and other plants. A day’s supply of the pills gives you 10 to 30 times the amount you’d get in an ordinary diet, and the result is that you give yourself carotenosis — i.e., you turn orange, a condition the Germans inexplicably find alluring. Other ways of doing the same thing include ODing on carrots or getting jaundice. This is not to say that beta-carotene is inherently bad. Studies suggest that in moderate amounts it can help prevent cancer. But we’re talking about an extra half-cup of carrots (or broccoli, squash, cantaloupe, etc.) a day, not the equivalent of a bushel basket.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

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