What is Mottled Skin: Causes, Definition, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Pictures

Every organ in the body requires a constant supply of blood. This includes the skin, the largest organ in the body. If the blood supply is cut short or interrupted in some skin areas, irregular discolored patches will appear. When this happens, a patient is said to have mottled skin.

This condition is not painful. It sometimes can, however, result in the formation of painful nodules on affected regions. When this happens, medical attention should be sought immediately. It is a sign of blood clotting, which can be fatal.

The limbs are commonly affected. This is because blood takes a longer route reach these body parts. While it can be a sign of a serious underlying condition, some cases, such as in infants, are equally common. This article looks in detail at what mottled skin is, its causes, symptoms and how it is treated. See mottled skin pictures for illustrations.

What is mottled skin and what does it look like

What is mottled skin? In medical terms, the condition is referred to as livedo reticularis. It basically is irregularity in skin pigmentation density. Some skin regions are more lightly pigmented than others. This happens in patches, spots or lines rather than with regular consistency.

People with dark skins barely notice it when the skin is mildly affected by this condition. The opposite is true for people with light skins. Affected areas turn red or purplish.

A detailed definition of mottled skin will classify the condition as primary or secondary. The former has no known cause and can affect anyone. The latter develops as a side effect, usually of vascular disorders such as blood clots.

Note that affected skin regions are rarely painful or itchy. This is a major difference that can help differentiate from other conditions such as eczema on elbows, psoriasis on the knees, or ingrown hair on thigh.

Mottled skin causes in adults

There is an array of mottled skin causes in adults. Most are related to constricted blood vessels. The constriction reduces efficiency of blood vessels to transport blood to and from some skin regions. Other than constriction, sudden tightening of blood vessels can also be responsible. Below are the common causes:

Blood circulation impairment

As hinted earlier, impairment in the normal cycle in which blood circulates in the skin is the most common cause of mottled skin. The problem can originate in the heart itself, large blood vessels or the smaller networked vessels located just beneath the skin.


Medical shock can be caused by conditions such as allergic reactions, loss of blood or physical trauma. It is very serious and requires immediate medical attention. If mottled skin is being caused by shock, patients will also experience symptoms such as low blood pressure, trouble breathing, dizziness and fainting.


Lupus is a disease that occurs when the immune system attacks healthy body tissues or organs. Its symptoms manifest in different body parts including the skin, joints, and heart. Lupus patients develop purplish patches on the skin which take the form of a net. The disease is more common in young women and children. Most cases are reported in cold seasons.


When the skin is exposed to cold, blood vessels constrict to prevent heat loss. Extreme cold may end up hindering sufficient supply of blood in the uppermost layer of the skin. As a result, mottled skin will develop. It is also common for affected areas to lose sensitivity or become numb. Extreme cold is also one of the blood blister on hand causes.

Some medications

It is always important that you check with your doctor if any medications you are taking cause unexpected side effects. It has been noted that some medications result in dark skin patches on some people. This can be accompanied by allergic reactions such as formation of a big lump under tongue or swelling in the face.

Rheumatoid arthritis

This is another autoimmune disease that may result in mottled skin. Its main symptom is joint weakness and formation of hard painful lumps around the joints. The disease has been observed to cause dark or purplish spots on the skin.


This is inflammation of the pancreas. Patients usually vomit, lose appetite and experience a lot of pain in the abdomen. A few days after onset of these symptoms, skin discoloration may occur.

Antiphospholipid syndrome

This is yet another autoimmune disease that is a potential cause of mottled skin. The skin covering the knees are mostly affected. Symptoms can also manifest on the wrists. Other than discolored skin, patients may experience headaches, abnormal blood clotting or stroke.

Other possible mottled skin causes include:

  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Age (especially in the last week of life)
  • Excess red blood cells count
  • Low platelets levels
  • Excess exposure to sunlight
  • Being fair skinned
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Vitiligo
  • Hereditary factors
  • Melanoma

Symptoms of mottled skin

The most common symptom is appearance of discolored skin patches, which can be purplish or red. The patches are usually networked in a lace-like manner and pale in the middle. Symptoms are mostly seen on arms and on legs although any other body part can be affected. This includes on the palms of hands or the feet.

Sometimes, nodules or ulcers can form on affected areas. This is a sign of a more serious underlying condition.

Other than changes in skin color, patients may experience other symptoms related to the underlying condition that is causing mottled skin. Such include seizures, headaches, stroke and blood clots.

Mottled skin in newborns and babies

Signs of skin mottling are common in infants, babies and children. Most cases are no calls for concern.

In infants

It is common for an infant to have mottled skin on the stomach, trunk and extremities. This is mostly caused by trauma during delivery, when tiny blood vessels break. It should resolve with time. Cold weather conditions may also contribute to loss of skin pigmentation in some skin regions.

In babies

After birth, the circulatory system continues to develop just like any other organ. Immaturity and underdevelopment of the system may result in insufficient supply of blood, especially in regions that are farther away from the heart such as arms and legs. Some babies may also have a poorly developed nervous system. This makes it hard for blood vessels to constrict and dilate in response to factors such as changes in weather conditions. With time, the condition should resolve as the systems mature. Consult your doctor if the condition is to persist for a long time, becomes painful or is accompanied by signs of vascular disorders.

In children

Skin mottling in children causes blue or pink skin discoloration, mostly on the feet and hands. It is an indication that the circulatory system has not matured like it should have. You can choose to wait for the system to fully develop or see your doctor for diagnosis. In most cases, the former option works just fine.

Infants, children or infants with mottled skin require no treatment. This is unless the condition is being caused by a diagnosable condition. In this case, the causal condition will be treated. Otherwise, parents are encouraged to introduce affected children to warmer environments when the symptoms show up. Sometimes, it comes to a point where affected children require moral support, to make it known to them that they are just as normal as other kids. Keep checking for other symptoms which may indicate a condition requiring medical attention.

Diagnosis for mottled skin in adults and children

  • Physical examination – your doctor will physically examine affected areas. For best results, consider writing down all the symptoms you have been experiencing. This will largely help confirm diagnosis.
  • UV testing – UV rays will be used to check for masses such as blood clots or aortic aneurysm. If the doctor sees fit, advanced imaging tests will be ordered.
  • Biopsy – a biopsy involves taking a small part of tissue or organ and checking for signs of infection under a microscope.

Additionally, your doctor will require details of your medical history. This involves information on whether a family member has ever been diagnosed with mottled skin.

Medical treatment for mottled skin in adults

A qualified dermatologist can get rid of this condition in the following ways:

Using chemical peels

As the name suggests, chemical peels basically work by getting rid of the uppermost surface of the skin. This is also known as exfoliation. These types of peels are commonly seen in the removal of genital warts and skin tag under armpit. Depending on the severity of discoloration, the treatment can be conducted over the duration of about 6 months. Mild cases respond much faster. Your dermatologist will help you choose the best types of chemical peels to use.


In this case, light pulses powerful enough to reach deep into the skin are used. As you may already know, sunlight is very beneficial for skin rejuvenation. This property can be taken advantage of by encouraging new skin cells to develop and replace the discolored ones. The main advantage of this treatment option is that it involves no skin damage.

Laser resurfacing

This treatment option works in two ways. It may cause slight damages to uppermost skin layers. In response, healthy skin will replace the damaged layer. Lasers may also be used to encourage growth of a substance known as collagen. This is the substance that makes the skin tight and free from wrinkles. IlluMask acne at home treatment uses this idea to get rid of acne and make skin more elastic and smoother. You can try it on mottled skin.

Treating underlying condition

If mottled skin is being caused by conditions such as lupus and vascular disorders, your doctor will decide on the best method to treat the conditions. For example, lupus can be treated with medications to lower immune reaction. Medications can also be prescribed to fight high cholesterol levels or fight blood clotting. Rarely will surgery of any kind be essential.

Treating mottled skin at home for babies and adults

Since exposure to direct sunlight can cause some parts of the skin to become heavily pigmented than others, wearing sunscreen lotions can help. Sunscreen will also prevent sunburns which cause red skin patches.

Skin bleaches and concealers can also be taken advantage of. Bleaches may succeed in removing discolored skin, but concealers will not.

If you suspect the condition has something to do with microbial infections, try topical products such as lotions and creams which fight bacteria and fungi.  In fact, natural remedies for atopic eczema such as apple cider can be used in place of topical antimicrobial products.

You can also try some home remedies recommended for skin lightening such as for men ingrown hairs when shaving. The good thing with home remedies is that you will not be risking chemical skin damage.


Cold is one of the most common causes of mottled skin. Other than causing the condition, it also worsens it. Start by retracting to warmer environments such as tucking your child in a blanket. Apart from that, avoid habits that may lead to vascular complications. Such include putting on a lot of weight, not getting enough exercise, and smoking.

Check with your doctor if the condition takes too long to resolve without treatment. Normally, things should get back to normal once constricted or damaged blood vessels heal. Conditions such as abnormal clotting of blood and lupus rarely resolve without treatment. This means that chronic mottled skin may be an indication that you have such conditions.