Other Name(s):

4,4-diketo-beta-carotene, Beta,beta-carotene-4,4-dione, Cantaxantina, Cantaxantine, Canthaxanthine, Carophyll Red, CI Food Orange 8, Colour Index No. 40850, E161, Roxanthin Red 10.


Canthaxanthin is a dye that is similar to the chemical that makes carrots orange. It occurs naturally and can also be made in a laboratory. People use it as medicine.

Canthaxanthin is used to reduce sensitivity to sunlight (photosensitivity) experienced by people who have a rare genetic disease called erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP). In these people, sunlight can cause skin reactions such as rash, itch, and eczema. Canthaxanthin is also used to reduce sun sensitivity caused by certain medications. Some people also try it for relieving itching caused by sun exposure.

Orobronze (canthaxanthin) is sold in Canada as a nonprescription “tanning pill.” In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved tanning pills containing canthaxanthin. Nevertheless, these products seem to be readily available to people in the U.S. through mail order and tanning salons.

In foods, canthaxanthin is used as food coloring and is added to animal feed to improve the color of chicken skins, egg yolks, salmon, and trout.

In manufacturing, canthaxanthin is used in cosmetics and in medications.

How does it work?

Canthaxanthin is a dye similar to the carotenes in vegetables such as carrots. It deposits in the skin to produce an artificial “tan.” It might protect against sun sensitivity through antioxidant activity.


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Uses & Effectiveness

Possibly Effective for...

  • An inherited blood disorder called erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP). Taking canthaxanthin by mouth, with or without beta-carotene, seems to reduce rash, itching, or eczema caused by sensitivity to sunlight exposure in people with EPP.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • An autoimmune disorder called cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE). Early research suggests that taking canthaxanthin and beta-carotene by mouth improves symptoms following sunlight exposure in people with CLE.
  • A rash due to sun sensitivity (polymorphous light eruptions). Early research suggests that taking canthaxanthin and beta-carotene by mouth improves symptoms following sunlight exposure in people with polymorphous light eruptions.
  • Skin redness and irritation (psoriasis). Early research suggests that taking beta-carotene and canthaxanthin by mouth prior to and during phototherapy does not improve symptoms of psoriasis more than phototherapy alone.
  • A skin discoloration disorder (vitiligo). Early research suggests that taking a specific product (Carotinoid-N) containing canthaxanthin and beta-carotene improves the appearance of skin sores and protects against the sun in people with vitiligo. However, the treatment does not seem to affect skin pigmentation.
  • Sun sensitivity caused by certain medications.
  • Itching caused by the sun.
  • Artificial sun tanning.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of canthaxanthin for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).

Side Effects

Canthaxanthin is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth in food amounts. However, it is LIKELY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in amounts needed for artificial tanning. Some people who have taken canthaxanthin for these purposes have experienced eye damage and vision loss.

At high doses, canthaxanthin has caused a serious, potentially fatal blood disorder called aplastic anemia. Canthaxanthin can also cause diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps, dry and itchy skin, hives, orange or red body secretions, and other side effects.


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Special Precautions & Warnings

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Canthaxanthin is POSSIBLY UNSAFE for pregnant or breast-feeding women when taken by mouth in medicinal amounts to reduce sun sensitivity. It's LIKELY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in amounts needed to produce a tan. It can cause eye damage and other harmful effects.

Vitamin A allergy: People who are allergic to vitamin A and related chemicals called carotenoids might also be sensitive to canthaxanthin.


The following doses have been studied in scientific research:


  • For reducing and treating rash, itch, and/or eczema (symptoms of photosensitivity) in people with erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP) when they are exposed to sunlight: 60 to 90 mg of canthaxanthin daily on average for three to five months per year.

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