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Can too much vitamin C darken skin?

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that plays many important roles in the body. It is a water-soluble vitamin, which means excess amounts are excreted in urine rather than stored in the body. While vitamin C has many health benefits, some people wonder if high doses can have negative effects like darkening the skin. Here is a look at the evidence on whether too much vitamin C intake can cause skin darkening.

What is Vitamin C?

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble nutrient found in many fruits and vegetables. It acts as an antioxidant in the body, protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin C is also involved in many important bodily processes including immune function, collagen production, wound healing, iron absorption, and formation of neurotransmitters [1].

Some of the best food sources of vitamin C include:

  • Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit
  • Strawberries
  • Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Tomatoes

The recommended daily intake for vitamin C is:

  • 75-90 mg per day for adults
  • 65-75 mg per day for infants
  • 85 mg per day for pregnant women
  • 120 mg per day for breastfeeding women

Deficiency in vitamin C can lead to conditions like scurvy, which causes symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, and bleeding gums. Getting adequate vitamin C from food or supplements can prevent deficiency.

Can Too Much Vitamin C Cause Skin Darkening?

There are a few reasons why very high doses of vitamin C could potentially lead to skin darkening or discoloration in some people.

Oxidation of Vitamin C

When vitamin C is exposed to air or metals, it can become oxidized and take on a brownish appearance [2]. This is why vitamin C powder can sometimes darken over time after being opened.

Excessively high doses of vitamin C could lead to high blood levels that may darken urine, sweat, or skin secretions. However, there is little evidence that oral vitamin C supplements actually stain or discolor skin.

Iron Overload

One of vitamin C’s functions is to enhance iron absorption. While this is beneficial in cases of iron deficiency anemia, it could theoretically contribute to iron overload in those consuming massive doses of vitamin C along with iron supplements or other sources [3].

Iron overload leads to a buildup of iron in body tissues, which can cause skin darkening. This condition, called hyperpigmentation, sometimes occurs with hemochromatosis – a genetic disorder that causes excessive iron absorption.

However, this would require very high intakes of both vitamin C and iron, so it is unlikely with normal supplementation.

Melanin Production

There is some research suggesting that vitamin C could stimulate melanin synthesis [4]. Melanin is the pigment that gives skin its color. In theory, increased melanin production triggered by high vitamin C levels could lead to skin darkening.

However, the studies on vitamin C’s ability to stimulate melanin were done in isolated cells, not living humans. More research is needed to know if this effect occurs in real-world conditions.

Recommended Upper Limit for Vitamin C

While vitamin C is water-soluble and excess amounts are excreted in urine, consuming very high doses can potentially cause side effects like diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps, headache, insomnia and kidney stones [5].

The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for vitamin C is 2,000 mg per day in adults. This is the maximum dose unlikely to cause harm or side effects in most people.

Doses over 2,000 mg per day are not recommended as they provide no added benefits and may increase the risk of side effects. Consuming very high doses up to 10,000 mg per day only results in minimal absorption and much higher amounts passing into the urine.

Does Vitamin C Skin Darkening Occur in Real Life?

While there are hypothetical mechanisms by which excess vitamin C could cause skin discoloration, this does not appear to be a concern with normal supplementation:

  • No evidence shows standard doses of vitamin C supplements (under 2,000 mg per day) darken skin.
  • Vitamin C-induced melanin production has only been shown in isolated cells, not living people.
  • Iron overload sufficient to cause skin darkening would require very high intakes of both vitamin C and iron.

In clinical practice, skin darkening has not been reported as a side effect of standard-dose vitamin C supplementation.

One small study in 10 healthy people taking 500 mg vitamin C daily found no changes in skin melanin levels after 3 months [6].

Overall, while very high theoretical doses could possibly cause issues, typical vitamin C intake from food and standard supplements do not appear to induce skin discoloration. More research on subjects taking high dose vitamin C could help clarify this, however.

Who May Need to Limit Vitamin C?

While moderate vitamin C intake is safe for most people, those with the following conditions may need to limit daily dosage:

  • G6PD deficiency – a genetic condition that can lead to hemolytic anemia with high dose vitamin C.
  • Iron overload syndromes like hemochromatosis – vitamin C improves iron absorption, worsening the condition.
  • Kidney stones – excessive vitamin C may increase kidney stone risk.

People taking vitamin C along with iron supplements may also want to limit intake to avoid excessive iron levels.

As with any supplement, it’s a good idea to consult your healthcare provider before taking megadoses of vitamin C.


In summary, while there are theoretical mechanisms by which extremely high doses of vitamin C could darken skin, this does not appear to be a concern with normal dietary intakes up to the tolerable upper limit of 2,000 mg per day.

Moderate vitamin C supplementation around the recommended daily amount has many health benefits and no evidence indicates it leads to skin discoloration. However, people with certain conditions like kidney stones or iron overload should be cautious with vitamin C dosage and consult their doctor.

More clinical studies specifically analyzing skin effects of high dose vitamin C supplements would help further clarify this theoretical risk. But with normal vitamin C intake from foods and standard supplements, skin darkening should not be a worry.