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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Medically Reviewed by: Steven Kim, MD
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.