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What are the Most Common Causes of Blue Skin?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The leading cause of blue skin is poor oxygen delivery to the body, a problem associated with a number of medical conditions including genetic disorders, as well as acquired conditions. Other causes can include dietary factors and exposure to toxins resulting in skin discoloration. The development of skin blueness can be a cause for medical concern, and a patient with a sudden change in skin pigmentation should seek evaluation and treatment.

When the body is not getting enough oxygen, the skin can start to turn blue, starting at the extremities. A condition called methemoglobinemia can cause congenitally blue skin by interfering with the transport of oxygen to the extremities. Likewise, people with Raynaud's phenomenon develop blue skin because their blood vessels clamp down, restricting the flow of blood to the tissues. Other causes can be respiratory disorders, as well as heart conditions, both of which make it harder for oxygen to reach the far corners of the body.

Certain toxins can cause changes in skin pigmentation, including a bluish cast to the skin. A common example is argyria, where people are exposed to high levels of silver and develop blue skin as a result. Colloidal silver supplements added to the diet in some regions can cause this condition, and in some cases, blue skin is the result of dietary factors. Isolated patches of bluish pigmentation can also be the result of situations like heavy bruising or hemorrhage just below the skin.

People who develop blue skin should take note of any other symptoms they experience, like shortness of breath, weakness, or nausea. These symptoms can be important diagnostic clues for physicians evaluating patients with skin conditions. At the doctor's office, some tests may be run to gather information about levels of dissolved oxygen in the blood, along with other factors. These tests can also be used to check for genetic conditions known to be associated with blue skin.

Treatment may resolve the discoloration and allow the patient to return to a more conventional color. In the case of circulatory problems, the restoration of healthy skin color can occur very rapidly, as the patient starts getting adequate oxygen and the muscle tissue recovers. With toxins, the body needs time to process the depositions of material leading to the blue discoloration, and it can take months for the skin to recover, especially if the exposure occurred over an extended period of time and was not treated early.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By hanley79 — On Aug 02, 2011

@SkittisH - Same reaction to ahain's post here, too. That's just nuts! Why didn't he just find himself some good face paint or something?

Thankfully for everybody who isn't a fantasy fanatic, as far as blue skin conditions are concerned argyria is a pretty rare one -- because most people know not to ingest enough silver to make it happen to them. I know of 11 cases in the United States that have been reported -- most of them from exactly what ahain's friend did, taking colloidal silver supplements.

Apparently you can make colloidal silver at home, and it's sold in kits by some companies who swear it cures everything under the sun. I'll bet they don't list turning permanently gray or blue on the box as one of the possible side effects!

By SkittisH — On Aug 02, 2011

@ahain - Oh my god, he gave himself argyria on purpose?! I hope he stays happy with being silvery blue, because that's a permanent condition! Whatever he does, he should not take any more silver, ever.

Even contact with too much silver jewelry can make the condition worse -- and while the skin coloring part might seem fun to him, the other symptoms of severe silver overdose are not so harmless. Enough silver buildup in the body can cause organ failure, vision issues and eventual failure, and other really worrisome possibilities.

By ahain — On Aug 01, 2011

A friend of mine who is just fanatical about Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy stuff actually turned himself blue on purpose. He did this by taking colloidal silver in large quantities -- daily, every day -- and by going out into the sun a lot. Apparently going out into the sun makes the skin that was hit by it turn blue faster.

Once he turned blue enough for his liking, he quit taking the silver. The results are kind of freaky -- it looks like he literally just dyed himself blue, except that his hair (black) isn't affected for some reason. In sunlight he also has a bit of a glint to his skin. He does look like a fantasy character, though, so he seems pleased...

By Hawthorne — On Aug 01, 2011

@indigomoth - Agreed -- better safe than sorry, especially since babies can't exactly tell you if something's really wrong and they don't feel well. It's up to you as a responsible parent to pay attention to details like blue tinges in the skin and act accordingly.

One exception to rushing to the hospital is if your baby has something called Mongolian Blue Spot. Since this is a type of birthmark, you'll probably learn about it after your baby is delivered, because the doctor is sure to notice it when examining your baby.

Mongolian Blue Spot is a rounded pale blue birthmark, and it's harmless, but it looks kind of strange -- kind of like a big bruise with cleaner edges. Anyway, if your baby has Mongolian Blue Spot then there's a blue skin condition that doesn't require medical attention.

If you just discover bruise-like spots on your baby, of course, get in to the hospital right away -- this could be a sign of some very serious conditions!

By indigomoth — On Aug 01, 2011

I just want to add that if you happen to notice your baby turn bluish at all, you should take them to the doctor right away.

I mean, if they really stop breathing they will turn blue and obviously you will do something about it.

But sometimes they will turn blue for a few moments, because they are having trouble breathing or whatever, and then look normal, and people will brush it off.

But it could be a sign of one of the problems listed in the article, or something else, like a defect in their nasal passages.

At any rate, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

By umbra21 — On Jul 31, 2011

When my mother was anemic for a while, her lips kept turning bluish which was a bit frightening for me. They would become slightly purple, and then grow bluer from there.

When she went to the doctor he showed her how if he pressed on her fingernails, they would stay pale for longer than they should.

I guess because the blood was not flowing back quickly enough?

He said you could try the same test on your gums. He just made her take some iron tablets and that seemed to work. She said she felt much less tired anyway. And her concentration came back.

But I wish she hadn't ignored her blue lips for so long. If you notice something like that you should get it checked out.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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