Marble skin is also known as livedo reticularis or cutis marmorata. It is a normal and usually harmless body response that causes your skin to become pale and covered in red or purple patterns.
It’s usually caused by cold temperatures. Most of the time it will go away quickly without the need for treatment. Marble skin is a common condition in babies. Children and adults can have it too.
Here’s what you need to know about marble skin.
Causes of Marble Skin
Cold temperatures. The most common reason for marble skin is time spent in cold temperatures. Doctors are still studying why this happens. The exact reason isn’t known. Most doctors believe that it’s usually caused by the tiny blood vessels near the top of your skin reacting to being cold.
Some of these vessels shrink. This causes your skin to get paler. Others dilate, or get wider, causing your skin to turn red or purple. You see darker and lighter spots next to each other in a blotchy pattern when both of these things happen at once next to each other. It’s called “marble” skin because the pattern looks like marble.
Babies seem to develop blotchy skin more often and more easily than older people. Some studies suggest that almost all newborns develop marble skin sometimes. Up to half of older children still experience it. This might be because their nervous system is still developing.
Decompression sickness. There’s a different cause of cutis marmorata that is rare. Scuba divers and underground workers with decompression sickness sometimes develop marble skin.
Anyone who breathes compressed air underwater or deep underground can experience decompression sickness if they come to the surface too quickly. The air they have been breathing might form tiny bubbles in their bloodstream. These cause serious heart and brain problems.
Marble skin in decompression sickness may be caused by damage to the brainstem. This is the part of your brain that controls how your blood vessels work. It might have trouble controlling how your blood vessels react to the cold if it gets damaged. This can cause marble skin. Divers’ skin usually gets better once they are treated for decompression sickness.
Symptoms of Livedo Reticularis
Marble skin can look alarming. But it’s not dangerous. The only symptom of marble skin for most people is the pattern itself. Your skin will be mostly pale but with thin, lacy red marks on top. It may also feel cold. It can appear anywhere on your body including your hands, feet, face, and torso.
Marble skin normally goes away entirely once the skin has warmed up. Go somewhere warmer if your child develops marble skin or put more clothes on them and it should disappear. Most children stop experiencing marble skin as they get older. But adults can sometimes experience it if they get too cold.
Risk Factors for Marble Skin
Marble skin is harmless. But some conditions can cause it to happen more often. Some conditions that make marble skin more likely include:
- Lange syndrome
- Trisomy 18
- Down syndrome
- Congenital hypothyroidism
- Lupus erythematosus
- Peripheral vascular disease
These conditions often affect your nervous and vascular systems. This might be why they’re connected to cutis marmorata. Your nervous system might be less prepared to react to the cold. This causes your skin to marble.
When to Talk to a Doctor
For newborns. Marble skin is normal in newborns. It should be temporary and easy to treat by warming up your baby. Take your baby to the doctor right away if they have marble skin that just won’t go away even when they’re warm. Marble skin that doesn’t disappear is sometimes an early sign of sepsis. This is a very serious infection.
Marble skin might also be a sign your baby has congenital hypothyroidism. This is a condition where their thyroid doesn’t produce enough of the right hormones.
Both should be treated as soon as possible to keep your baby healthy.
For adults. Marble skin that doesn’t go away once you are warm might be a sign of something more serious. Conditions like lupus erythematosus that affect your blood vessels and nervous system can lead to frequent or constant marble skin patterns. Talk to your doctor if you frequently experience marble skin to confirm nothing else is wrong.
Get medical help immediately if you’re experiencing decompression sickness. You need to get the right treatment as soon as possible to keep the bubbles in your blood from causing problems. Your marble skin should go away once you’ve been treated for decompression sickness.