What You Need to Know About a Hickey

If you're a fan of the movie Grease, you probably remember this line. "A hickey from Kenickie is like a Hallmark card: 'When you care enough to send the very best.' " The hickey, or "love bite," on Rizzo's neck was an obvious sign that she and Kenickie had been fooling around.

But how do you get from make-out session to needing makeup coverage to hide the evidence? Here's a guide to the causes of, and solutions to, hickeys.

What Is a Hickey?

A hickey is a dark red or purple mark on your skin caused by intense suction. The neck is a common site for hickeys because of its easy access, but you can get them anywhere.

When your partner sucks on and bites your skin, the pressure breaks little blood vessels under the surface. Those broken vessels release tiny spots of blood called petechiae.

A collection of these blood spots forms a larger dark spot, which is basically a bruise. The bruise may change color over time from red or dark purple to yellow.

How Do You Get Rid of It?

Like other bruises, a hickey should fade away within a few days. To bring down swelling and reduce bleeding, put an ice pack on it for the first 1 to 2 days after the mark appears. Wrap the ice pack in a towel, and hold it to your skin for 15 minutes at a time, several times a day. After the second day, you can switch to a warm compress.

If the hickey hurts, take an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen.

When you have a hickey on your neck, people tend to know how it got there. If you don't want to announce what you've been doing, or you don't like the way it looks, cover it with makeup. Choose your makeup tone based on the color of the hickey. A yellow toner will conceal purple bruises, while a green toner hides redness.

Are There Any Risks to Having a Hickey?

A hickey shouldn't cause any real problems, but see a doctor if:

  • The hickey doesn't go away after a couple of weeks.
  • The bruise is very sore.
  • You notice other bruises on your body, especially if you don’t know how you got them.
  • There's a lump over the bruise.

These symptoms could be a sign of a medical condition, like a blood disease or clotting disorder.


Can a Hickey Cause Serious Problems?

It's not very likely, but a handful of serious injuries have happened after hickeys.

For example, a New Zealand woman got a hickey and became partially paralyzed. Emergency room doctors found a clot in her brain and treated her for a stroke. And a 35-year-old woman in Denmark got weak on her right side from a stroke 12 hours after she'd gotten a hickey.

How might a hickey lead to a stroke? It takes a very unusual set of circumstances. A major blood vessel called the carotid artery runs down either side of your neck. This artery supplies blood to your brain, face, and neck. In theory, putting a lot of pressure on the carotid artery might cause a clot to form, or shake loose a clot that's already there.

While this series of events could happen, it's extremely unlikely. The women in New Zealand and Denmark could have had earlier artery problems that put them at greater risk for a stroke.

To be on the safe side, try not to give or receive a hickey close to the carotid artery. That's the area at the top part of your neck, just to the side of your chin.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on July 18, 2019



Cleveland Clinic: "Bruises: Management and Treatment."

Lees, M. Skin Care: Beyond the Basics, Cengage Learning, 2013.

Mayo Clinic: "Bruise: First Aid."

Medscape: "Can a Hickey Really Cause a Stroke?"

Ugeskr Laeger: "Love bite on the neck resulted in an embolic stroke."

Payne-James, J. Simpson's Forensic Medicine, CRC Press, 2011.

The New Zealand Medical Journal: "Love bites -- an unusual cause of blunt internal carotid artery injury."

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