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What causes blanching of skin? 17 possible conditions

What Is Blanching of Skin?

In the French language, “blanc” translates to “white.” Blanching of the skin occurs when the skin becomes white or pale in appearance.

Blanching of the skin typically indicates a temporary obstruction of blood flow. If you press gently on an area of your skin, it likely turns lighter before resuming its natural color. However, not all blanching of skin is temporary. Some conditions cause long-term or permanent blanching.

What Causes Blanching of Skin?

The possible causes of blanching of skin can range from a medical emergency to a temporary inconvenience.

Shock is a medical emergency that causes blanching of the skin, as well as other signs and symptoms. The condition occurs when the body is not getting enough blood or oxygen, usually due to one of the following:

  • significant blood loss
  • severe trauma
  • third-degree burns
  • clinical dehydration
  • severe infection
  • an allergic reaction

Shock is a medical emergency, so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms in addition to blanching of skin. Symptoms include:

  • altered breathing, such as breathing too quickly or too slowly
  • cool, clammy skin
  • loss of consciousness or feeling faint
  • nausea and vomiting
  • mental confusion
  • absence of urine output

Call 911 if you suspect you or a loved one may be experiencing shock.

Several skin conditions can cause blanching of skin, including:

  • burned skin — can cause pigment loss
  • dermatitis, or skin irritation — some areas of skin are red and others are pale
  • frostbite — the skin’s tissues become frozen, resulting in loss of blood flow
  • tinea versicolor — a type of fungal skin infection
  • pressure sores — blanching of skin indicates impaired blood flow
  • vitiligo — the skin has areas of smooth, white patches

A condition called Raynaud’s phenomenon or Raynaud’s disease is also associated with blanching of skin. This condition is marked by spasmodic constriction of the arterial blood vessels, which causes blanching of skin, numbness, cold, and pain.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 5 percent of Americans have Raynaud’s. The condition most commonly affects the fingers and toes. However, some people have symptoms on their nostrils, lips, or earlobes. 

Anemia (lack of red blood cells), or sudden blood loss, also can cause blanching of skin.

What Are the Symptoms of Blanching of Skin?

Blanching of skin causes the skin to appear white or paler than usual, depending on your skin tone. The skin may feel cool to the touch if blood flow is affected.

When to Seek Medical Help

Seek immediate medical attention if you or a loved one experiences any of the following symptoms in addition to blanching of skin:

  • inability to breathe well or catch your breath
  • skin burns that are severe, deep, or involve a large area
  • a weak pulse
  • loss of consciousness  
  • pale, clammy skin
  • uncontrolled nausea and vomiting, especially vomiting blood

How Is Blanching of Skin Diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose blanching of skin by conducting a physical examination to determine potential causes. They’ll examine how the skin looks around the blanched area and take your medical history to determine any conditions that may contribute to the blanching of skin. 

Blanching of skin caused by anemia, Raynaud’s disease, or shock may be diagnosed with a blood test to determine low red blood cell levels.

How Is Blanching of Skin Treated?

Treatments for blanching of skin depend upon the underlying cause. For example, doctors often correct anemia and shock by administering blood products, intravenous fluids, and oxygen.

Home Care

Take care of your skin by washing regularly with antibacterial soap and applying moisturizer to prevent skin damage. Keep the skin warm through layering, wearing mittens or warm socks, and refraining from staying in the cold too long. 

People who are bed-bound require frequent turning to keep excess pressure from causing bedsores. Pressure points such as the buttocks, elbows, heels, and back of the head are vulnerable to pressure that can cause wounds known as decubitus ulcers. 

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Raynaud's Phenomenon

Raynaud's phenomenon is a condition where blood flow to your fingers, toes, ears or nose is restricted or interrupted. This occurs when the blood vessels in your hands or feet constrict. Episodes of constriction ar...

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Hypovolemic Shock

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Hypovolemic shock (hemorrhagic shock) is a life-threatening condition that results when you lose more than 20 percent of your body's blood or fluid supply, preventing the heart from pumping sufficient blood to your body.

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Cardiogenic Shock

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Cardiogenic shock is a rare condition in which the heart is so damaged that it is unable to supply sufficient blood to bodily organs. Sweating and cold extremities are potential signs of this condition.

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Anemia happens when the number of healthy red blood cells in your body is too low. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all of the body's tissues.

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Chemical Burns

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Chemical burns occur when the skin or eyes come into contact with irritants, such as acids or bases. Symptoms vary, but skin reactions, pain or numbness are common.

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Exposure of the skin to extreme or prolonged cold can result in frostbite. Lesions on the skin are one sign of extreme frostbite.

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Burns are characterized by severe skin damage in which many of the affected cells die. Most people can recover from burns without serious health consequences.

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Septic Shock

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Septic shock is a complication of an infection in which toxins can initiate a full-body inflammatory response and organ failure. Confusion, breathing problems, chills, and cold sweats.

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Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis, or sun spots, is a common skin condition. It occurs when skin cells grow abnormally, forming scaly, discolored spots.

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

When people with severe allergies are exposed to their allergen, a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis can result: a series of symptoms such as rash, abdominal pain, and difficulty breathing and shock.

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Psoriasis Overview

Psoriasis is a chronic, noncontagious skin disease characterized by red patches of skin often accompanied by silvery-white scales of dead skin cells. It may occur anywhere on the body.

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Eczema is a common skin condition caused by an overactive immune system. It is marked by itchy and inflamed patches of skin.

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Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a condition that makes skin red or inflamed after contact with a particular substance. Contact dermatitis is either the result of an allergen or an irritant. Allergic dermatitis usually appear...

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Impetigo is a highly contagious bacterial skin condition that usually occurs on the face, neck, and hands of young children. It may cause a number of skin symptoms that usually go away within one to two weeks.

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Lichen Planus

Lichen planus is a fairly common skin rash that is thought to be triggered by the immune system. It causes lesions in the mouth that may be painful or burn.

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Pemphigoid is a rare autoimmune disorder that most often affects the elderly. Lesions on the abdomen, arms, legs, and mucous membranes is a common symptom.

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Ichthyosis Vulgaris

Ichthyosis vulgaris, also known as "fish scale disease," is a generally genetic skin disease that causes dry, dead skin cells to accumulate in patches on the skin.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.