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What Are the Most Common Causes of Green Skin?

Wearing copper jewelry can cause green skin.
The Statue of Liberty appears green because it is made out of copper.
A bruise can cause skin discoloration.
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  • Written By: Jeremy Laukkonen
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2014
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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.

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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.

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anon962134
Post 12

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.

anon346501
Post 11

I am suffering from hypochromic anaemia 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.

anon330521
Post 10

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 colour. 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.

KoiwiGal
Post 9

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.

croydon
Post 8

@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 alright, but it's worth getting a mole check anyway. Any strange colors or shapes might be an indication of melanoma.

MrsPramm
Post 7

@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.

ddljohn
Post 6

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?

serenesurface
Post 5

@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.

burcinc
Post 4

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?

anon251542
Post 3

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.

sherlock87
Post 2

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.

sapphire12
Post 1

I had no idea anemia could actually change the colour 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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