What to Know About Yellow Palms

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on June 28, 2022
4 min read

Your palm is the interior part of the hand between the wrist and fingers used for grasping. The palm’s natural color is light red or pinkish in color. It can sometimes turn yellow due to a number of reasons. 

Here’s what you need to know about these potential causes.

One of the reasons why palms develop a yellowish pigment is a condition called carotenemia. Carotenemia is a condition distinguished by the discoloration of the skin into a yellowish-orange pigment. It can be caused by the prolonged intake of foods rich in carotene. 

Carotene is a lipochrome that adds a yellow color to the skin. It is found in pigmented fruits and vegetables like orange, squash, papaya, mango, carrots, and cabbage. It is synthesized in fruits as they ripen. In vegetables, it is hidden by the green color of chlorophyll. Often, the more yellow or green a vegetable is, the more carotene it contains. 

Carotenemia is more common in infants and young children. It may be brought about by mothers giving their infants large quantities of green and orange fruits and vegetable purees. It can also be caused by the intake of nutritional supplements. Primary carotenemia is caused by dietary problems and it appears several weeks after the increased consumption of responsible foods. It is more likely to affect vegetarians than non-vegetarians.

It particularly affects the thick areas of the skin like palms and soles. Although carotenemia is a harmless disease, it can lead to a false diagnosis of jaundice. 

If the condition occurs even with a normal intake of carotenoids, then it is a sign of an underlying disease. Some of the diseases that cause carotenemia include:

  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Nephritic and nephrotic syndrome
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Primary hepatic disease
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Renal diseases
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Familial conditions
  • Inborn metabolism errors

The palm turns yellow because it contains a thick layer of skin that allows maximum accumulation of carotene. It also has a lot of sweat glands. These factors enhance the yellowish pigment, making it very visible.

Vitamin toxicity refers to the excessive consumption of vitamins leading to side effects and health problems.

Fat-soluble vitamins are likely to become toxic compared to water-soluble vitamins. This is due to their ability to accumulate in the body. 

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin required for a number of metabolic and physical activities in the body. However, excessive consumption of Vitamin A is dangerous.  Vitamin A toxicity can result from topical or oral use, and the overdose can be either acute or chronic. 

The consumption of 25,000 international units (IU) per kilogram of Vitamin A every day leads to acute toxicity. Chronic toxicity results from the prolonged intake of 4,000 international units (IU) per kilogram of Vitamin A. 

Dietary Vitamin A can be found in animal sources like milk, liver, fish, fortified foods, and drug supplements. It can also be found in carotenoids from plant sources, particularly carrots. Excessive intake, though, can lead to hypervitaminosis A and a variety of conditions like carotenemia.

Acute vitamin A toxicity is characterized by the tenderness of muscles and bones in the upper and lower parts of the body. It is also signified by increased intracranial pressure. Children with acute vitamin A toxicity develop big foreheads.

Chronic vitamin A toxicity leads to cosmetic yellowing of the skin. It also affects the mucous membranes as well as the musculoskeletal and neurologic systems. 

Effects of toxicity on the skin and mucous membranes result in:

  • Erythema
  • Eczema
  • Pruritus
  • Dry and cracked skin
  • Angular cheilitis
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Palmar and plantar peeling
  • Alopecia

The effects on the neurological system include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Frontal headache

Exercise can lead to increased pain in the musculoskeletal system.

You can be diagnosed with carotenemia following a blood test carried out by a doctor. Besides the change in skin color, you can tell that you have carotenemia if you also notice such symptoms as pruritus, fatigue, abdominal pain, and weight loss.

Since carotenemia is a diet-induced disease, it can be treated by reducing the amount of carotene consumed. Carotenemia caused by vitamin toxicity should be treated with the reduction of vitamin A intake. In the case of a large toxic vitamin A overdose, gastrointestinal decontamination is also important. It will help in the reduction of vitamins absorbed systematically. Seek medical attention in the case of an acute overdose, including contacting a poison control unit.

Treatment of carotenemia will eventually lead to the reduction of the yellowish pigment in the palms. Educating patients on the existence of carotenemia and its causes will go a long way in treating and managing the condition. Consulting a dietician about what meals to eat after diagnosis helps improve outcomes.