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What Are the Most Common Causes of Green Skin?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Some of the most common causes of green skin are anemia and discoloration from wearing certain kinds of jewelry. In some cases, this condition can also be associated with severe health problems, such as multiple organ failure. It is also possible for green skin to simply be the result of bruising, though skin discolored in this way will generally be highly localized and exhibit a range of hues as it heals. Unless the discoloration is obviously localized to a bruise or linked to wearing jewelry, only a medical professional can properly diagnose the problem.

Hypochromic anemia, once commonly known as chlorosis, is one potential cause of green skin. This condition results in the red blood cells lacking the normal level of hemoglobin that normally gives them their red color. Consequently, people with hypochromic anemia sometimes exhibit a green pallor to their skin. Other symptoms of the condition can include shortness of breath, headaches, and a lack of appetite, while potential causes include B6 deficiency, low iron absorption, certain types of infections, or even lead poisoning.

Another potential cause of green skin is bruising, which generally involves internal bleeding into extracellular space within the skin. Bruises often initially appear reddish-blue or purple, which is due to the red pigmentation present in the blood's hemoglobin. This then breaks down into compounds like biliverdin, biliruben, and hemosiderin, each of which has a different color. Biliverdin in particular can have a greenish hue, and its presence in a bruise can cause the skin to appear green. A bruise often has many of these compounds present at any time during the healing process, so colors such as red, blue, green, yellow, and golden brown can all be present in a bruise.

Though anemia and bruising can cause greenish skin colors, they typically won't result in a very bright green hue. There have, however, been instances of skin taking on such a vibrant tone after multiple organ failure. In cases such as multiple organ failure, or sepsis, it may become possible for food dyes to be absorbed into the extracellular space. This can cause the skin to take on a bright blue or green tint. Food dyes are deemed safe for human consumption based partially on not being absorbable, but in cases where multiple organ failure or sepsis are present, they may be absorbed.

Green skin may also be caused by wearing certain jewelry. In particular, wearing accessories made of copper can have this effect. Perspiration from the skin may react with the copper, in effect corroding the surface of the jewelry and resulting in the same type of copper salts that cause copper-based items, like the U.S. Statue of Liberty, to appear green. This material may then transfer to the skin, causing it to have the same color.

Treatment for Pale Green Skin From Anemia

Depending on the cause of your paleness, your treatment can vary. Here are the possible options:

  • Eating a balanced and nutrient-rich diet
  • Taking folate, vitamin B12, or iron supplements
  • Getting treatment or taking medicine to manage an ongoing medical condition
  • If you are frostbitten, cover your feet and hands in a warm washcloth or warm water
  • Taking off constricting clothes or accessories, hydrating, cooling off in the case of heat exhaustion

You can also improve poor circulation by taking different lifestyle measures like the following:

  • Avoid or quit smoking
  • Avoid drinking alcohol
  • Manage your cholesterol levels
  • Manage your blood sugar levels
  • Surgery may be necessary for the treatment of arterial blockage or severe cases of acute blood loss

How to Prevent Jewelry From Turning Skin Green

Use one of these three methods to prevent your skin from turning green if you wear copper jewelry:

Clear Nail Polish

Coat the inside of your ring with clear nail polish. Doing this creates a barrier between your skin and ring, making it impossible for the copper to react with the oils on your fingers. Keep in mind that you will need to reapply the nail polish periodically because the layer of polish will wear off from time to time.

Keep Skin Dry

Avoid using soap or lotion when you have your ring on. Instead, take your ring or necklace off before swimming or showering to keep your skin dry. When you keep your skin dry, you prevent the copper in the ring from oxidizing faster. Consequently, your jewelry remains in good condition for longer.

Purchase Higher Quality Jewelry

You can buy quality rings made of better materials such as platinum, stainless steel, rhodium-plated, and pure gold/silver; these metals aren't susceptible to discoloration. Rings made from these materials are an excellent investment because you can maintain them for a long time.

How to Treat Green Bruises

It takes a mild to moderate bruise two weeks to heal—with a chance that some may heal faster. So if you're suffering from mild to moderate bruising and would like to accelerate the process of healing or even lessen the pain, try out some of the things at home:

Cold Compress

Ice is a very effective treatment for bruised areas. When you initially sustain a bruise, one of the first steps to healing is to apply a cold compress. The biliverdin and bilirubin break down the hemoglobin, turn the bruise into a greenish color, and the ice helps reduce inflammation and shrink blood vessels. 

Take the ice pack and wrap a dry cloth around it because you don't want the ice to touch your skin directly as it could make the bruise worse. The cold compress should eventually make the bruise smaller, and I prove the discoloration. 

Topical Creams

Using cream from the local pharmacy can also help restore your natural skin color. These healing creams contain ingredients such as quercetin, vitamin K, vitamin B3, and arnica, which work to accelerate the time it takes to heal with their anti-inflammatory properties. 

Elevation

An underrated way to tackle bruising and discoloration is to elevate the area that's injured. If you can lift the body part above your heart, that's the optimal position. The healing benefits are similar to that of the cold compress. It will decelerate the rate of bleeding, and it can also help shrink the bruise itself. 

Recap: When to See a Doctor

When your skin turns a hue of green, it's usually not a pause for concern. If you're anemic, your doctor likely already has you on a course to prevent the symptoms of anemia, such as iron supplements and a diet high in iron. 

However, if your symptoms aren't improving, and you're continually tired, pale, and experiencing other adverse effects, you should contact your doctor immediately. 

Green skin resulting from copper jewelry or bruising is not difficult to remedy, so there's generally no reason to worry if your skin is green. 

Since a vibrant green color can indicate organ failure, you should contact your doctor if your skin color is not improving with any treatment methods listed above. It could be a sign of a more severe problem. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is green skin?

A medical ailment known as green skin is characterized by a greenish color to the skin. It can result from a number of medical disorders and impact any part of the body. It can be brought on by environmental factors like exposure to specific chemicals or pollutants, or it can be a symptom of an underlying medical issue like liver disease or jaundice. Green skin can occasionally be caused by a genetic condition or an adverse drug reaction.

What are the most common causes of green skin?

Jaundice, liver illness, and specific drugs are the most frequent causes of green skin. In some situations, the condition known as jaundice can result in the skin turning green rather than yellow. The skin can also turn green as a result of liver illness and several drugs, including antibiotics. Additionally, the skin may turn green as a result of contact with specific poisons and chemicals.

Is green skin contagious?

No, green skin isn't communicable. Neither coming into contact with an infected individual nor touching anything that they have touched will cause you to get green skin.

Are there treatments for green skin?

There are indeed remedies for green skin. The underlying reason for green skin will determine the course of treatment. For instance, addressing the underlying ailment that is producing the underlying condition will be necessary if the reason for the green skin is jaundice. Avoiding exposure to specific poisons or chemicals is necessary for the treatment of green skin if those substances are the cause.

What are the symptoms of green skin?

A greenish tinge to the skin is the most prevalent sign of green skin. Itching, redness, and swelling are among the other signs and symptoms. Green skin occasionally comes with stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. You should get medical help as soon as you can if you encounter any of these symptoms. 

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon1004867 — On May 05, 2021

Sometimes my skin becomes green on my legs, my arm, like on different places. What is the cause of that? I even have a shortness of breath and have a terrible headache so it means that I have anemia?

By anon962134 — On Jul 22, 2014

I have a green scaly-like dry area on my skin near the inside of my elbow area. It looks kind of like a bruise or dirt, but almost never goes away, and when it does, it usually comes back within a matter of days.

By anon346501 — On Aug 29, 2013

I am suffering from hypochromic anemia and usually get the large green spots on my limbs. It is due to heavy periods. However, for the last two months, I have not been getting them, as I have shifted to an iron rich diet, but without iron supplementation. I take sheep liver with a glass of water containing few drops of lemon. I take it for only seven days after every monthly period.

By anon330521 — On Apr 17, 2013

But what about food pigments? After all, we know that people who eat very large amounts of tomatoes (or tomato soup or paste) every day slowly but surely get an orange color. This is a known fact. And it is all due to the orange/red pigments in the tomatoes.

It seems to me that something similar should be possible with other pigments as well. But so far I haven't found anything on that.

Does anyone know more about this? Is it possible to eat certain foods with green pigments in very large amounts and slowly accumulate the pigment in or under the skin? Seems plausible in light of the tomato-orange effect.

By KoiwiGal — On Nov 07, 2012

Copper can really change your skin quite dramatically f it reacts badly to your particular set of chemicals.

If you've got a copper piece of jewelry that you can't stand to get rid of, you need to coat it in some kind of sealant. There are special craft sealants you can get, like resin, but if you want a quick and easy do-it-yourself solution I'm pretty sure that clear nail polish will do it. Coat the copper, let it dry and then wear it.

By croydon — On Nov 06, 2012

@ddljohn - How long have you been shaving? If you're younger and haven't been growing a beard for that long, it might be that your hair has just gotten thicker and darker over time. The hair root of dark hair under the skin can make it look slightly discolored. You might want to try a sharper razor to see if it can help you with a closer shave.

Possibly, you might be slightly bruising your skin as well, by being too rough. In this case, I'd recommend using a shaving cream and not shaving so often if you can.

As the the greenish skin near your moles, if you haven't witnessed them changing lately, then they are probably all right, but it's worth getting a mole check anyway. Any strange colors or shapes might be an indication of melanoma.

By MrsPramm — On Nov 05, 2012

@anon251542 - I suspect it's not really a change in pigment, so much as a change in pallor, like when you describe a person as being "green about the gills". It just means that they are very pale. It's not like you would mistake them for a martian with a green skin color, but I have definitely seen people go so pale from sickness that they looked faintly green.

By ddljohn — On Oct 30, 2012

Is it possible to get green skin from shaving? I shave everyday and recently, I start noticing that my beard and mustache area are discolored. It looks slightly green. Is it because I'm shaving too often? What can I do to get rid of this discoloration?

Also, I have a couple of brown moles which have a slightly greenish-bluish color around them. They've always been this way. Is this something I need to worry about?

By serenesurface — On Oct 29, 2012

@burcinc-- It's probably a healing bruise. I experienced the same thing once before. I think sometimes we get a bruise but we don't even realize it for a couple of days.

I don't know about other people, but my bruises always go from purple to green to yellow and it usually takes a week for it to completely heal. So if I don't realize I have a bruise until two or three days after I get it, I come across a green area.

Just watch that area and see if it it will turn yellow and then disappear in a couple of days. If it doesn't go away, then it might be something else and you should see a doctor in that case.

By burcinc — On Oct 28, 2012

I noticed this morning that I have a large green spot on my leg. I don't remember seeing it before. The area is sore; when I touch it, it hurts a little bit. What could this be?

By anon251542 — On Mar 01, 2012

I am severely anemic. I get iron infusions weekly, but even before the infusions started, my skin was far from ever turning even a hint of green.

By sherlock87 — On Apr 19, 2011

I find it interesting that anemia and wearing copper jewelry both turn your skin green; even more interesting that they thus end up in the same article. I don't know how else you would organize that information; I guess I just wouldn't have expected it.

By sapphire12 — On Apr 18, 2011

I had no idea anemia could actually change the color of your skin. I have had it a couple of times, though I try very hard to maintain a healthy hemoglobin count. I can't imagine not noticing the other symptoms, like tiredness and low appetite, long enough for your skin to turn green. At the same time, though, I suppose that would be noticed and make you go to the doctor.

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