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Mottled Skin: What Does It Look Like and When to See a Doctor?

Livedo reticularis, commonly known as mottled skin, is skin with discolored patches of red, blue, or purple and net-like patterns that lace over the skin. It’s often harmless and caused by changes in the blood vessels under the skin. However, it could be an indicator of an underlying health condition.

This article details all you need to know about mottled skin — what it’s like, how to recognize it, and what to do when you have it.

What is Mottled Skin?

Mottled skin has a patchy, discolored appearance, often accompanied by web patterns or red, blue, or purple marbling on the skin’s surface. It develops when the skin isn’t supplied with adequate oxygen. It affects adults and children, but children and young females are more vulnerable.

There are three main types of mottled skin. They are:

1. Physiologic Mottled Skin

Also known as cutis marmorata, it’s a temporary reaction to cold weather that commonly affects newborn babies and children. It often appears as red discoloration on their faces, hands, or feet.

2. Primary Livedo reticularis

This type of mottled skin doesn’t have a definite cause. It’s also called idiopathic livedo reticularis. It appears as purplish skin color discoloration.

3. Secondary Livedo reticularis

This type of mottled skin is usually a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, or vascular diseases (diseases affecting the blood vessels).

What Does Mottled Skin Look Like?

Mottled skin appears patchy and discolored. In people with pale skin, The discoloration may be red or blue, while it’s often purplish in people with darker skin tones. It’s accompanied by web patterns or marbling.

mottled skin

Symptoms of Mottled Skin

Aside from its general appearance of netted patterns and discoloration, mottled skin can be identified by other skin symptoms. However, these other symptoms are concerning and may require medical treatment. They are:


Ulcers are slow-healing sores that can occur internally or externally. They are special wounds that require medical treatment.


A nodule is a dome-shaped lump under the skin. Nodules occur in the outermost layer of the skin and can be painful.

Causes of Mottled Skin

Mottled skin occurs when the internal body temperature that affects blood circulation changes, usually in cold weather or a cold environment. It can be a symptom of an underlying disorder in the body. It can also be caused by shock and autoimmune diseases. The following are other causes of livedo reticularis:

1. Shock

Mottled skin may be a signal that your body is going into shock. Severe and life-threatening, shock can be caused by trauma, infections, blood loss, or accidents. If any of these has happened to you and you notice skin mottling, seek immediate medical attention, especially when accompanied by the following:

  • breathing problems or rapid breathing
  • dilated pupils
  • rapid pulse
  • nausea and vomiting
  • dizziness or fainting

2. Cold Environment

The primary cause of mottled skin is a cold environment. Cold weather significantly reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the skin’s surface, causing mottling.

This type of mottled skin can often be taken care of by simple home remedies. Keeping warm in cold temperatures, using ointments, and massaging the affected area can also reduce mottling. As the skin warms, mottling symptoms subside because normal blood flow is restored to the skin.

3. Vascular Diseases

Vascular diseases are one of the leading causes of mottled skin. They’re caused by inadequate blood circulation, preventing enough oxygenated blood from reaching the skin’s surface, and causing mottled skin and blood clots. To maintain healthy blood vessels, stay active and warm and eat healthy, avoiding foods high in cholesterol.

4. Reactions to Medications

Reactions to certain medications such as amantadine (a drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease), catecholamines, and blood clot medication show up in the form of mottled skin. If you notice skin mottling symptoms while taking these medications, seek medical help.

5. Lupus

Systemic lupus erythematosus is a rare but treatable autoimmune disease and inflammatory condition that causes livedo reticularis. Lupus causes damage to small blood vessels and its symptoms include sunlight sensitivity, butterfly-shaped rash, fatigue, and skin mottling.

6. Antiphospholipid Syndrome

Antiphospholipid Syndrome, also known as Hughes Syndrome, is an autoimmune condition that mainly affects middle-aged adults. It causes the skin to develop a net-like pattern and purple spots.

7. Pancreatitis

Inflammation of the pancreas for a short period is known as acute pancreatitis and mottled skin is one of its early symptoms, often occurring after three days after the first signs. Its other symptoms include:

  • severe abdominal pain
  • fever
  • nausea
  • diarrhea

Seeking immediate medical attention improves the chances of bouncing back faster and preventing the disease from recurring.

8. Thyroid Disease

Thyroid diseases cause an imbalance in thyroid hormone levels and can cause the calcification of blood vessels, especially the ones close to the skin. This disrupts blood circulation and can cause blood clots and mottled skin.

Seek professional medical advice if you notice a lacy pattern on your skin with the following symptoms:

  • reduced energy levels
  • unexplained weight gain or loss
  • sensitivity to weather extremes
  • fatigue
  • experiencing irregular periods (in females)

9. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Like Lupus and APS, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints. It causes joint pain and inflammation and also mottled skin. Due to the nature of the disease and how it affects the immune system, it can damage blood vessels, causing mottled, discolored, or patchy skin. Its other symptoms include:

  • pain and stiffness in joints, lasting for more than 3o minutes
  • weight loss
  • nodules appearing beneath the skin, especially in the hands and feet

Rheumatoid arthritis has no cure, but healthcare professionals prescribe medication to help reduce autoimmune activity and reduce discomfort and pain.

10. Poor Blood Circulation

Poor blood circulation is a primary cause of mottled skin, especially in cold weather. It causes the discoloration that is most common with this skin condition. Oftentimes, poor blood circulation is caused by a drop in blood pressure. When blood pressure drops, the efficacy of blood flow is reduced, causing discoloration at the skin’s surface.

11. Infection

The medical term for severe infection is sepsis, and it can cause mottling, especially when the patient goes into septic shock. Septic shock is a condition whereby the infection-causing microbe gets into the patient’s bloodstream. It’s a life-threatening condition that can cause organ damage due to a sudden drop in blood pressure.

This case is known as mottled skin sepsis, and when observed along with other signs like rapid heart rate, extreme pain, fever and chills, nausea and vomiting, or breathing problems, seek medical attention.

12. End-of-Life Stage

The skin can appear mottled when a person is nearing death, especially in their final week of life. It begins from the legs, travels upwards, and occurs because of the heart’s inability to pump blood to the body adequately. It’s a strong indicator that death is imminent and doesn’t go away, even after death.

Mottled Skin in Babies

Mottled skin occurring in a newborn baby is often harmless. It’s known as Curtis Mamorata and appears in the first few weeks after birth, usually from the moment of birth. This is due to the irregular blood circulation of the baby and the exposure to cold temperatures that vary from the womb’s temperature.

Newborn baby with mottled skin.

It clears by itself, so it’s nothing to worry about. However, keeping the baby swaddled and warm goes a long way in reducing and clearing up discoloration.

Complications of Mottled Skin

If left unattended, mottled skin can culminate into other health conditions. Also, skin mottling often occurs when the skin condition itself indicates an unaddressed medical condition. The following are complications of mottled skin:


Inflammation happens when mottled skin is not properly managed. Swelling, reddening skin color, and tenderness are signs of inflammation that can be eliminated when the primary cause of mottled skin is addressed. Staying warm and applying gels or oils to the affected areas may help reduce inflammation.

Skin Discoloration

Extreme skin discoloration, especially one that doesn’t go away after removing the causes of mottling, is another complication of mottled skin that indicates an underlying health condition. Massages can help clear the discoloration, but seek the assistance of a healthcare professional if it persists.


Pain from a mottled skin condition can have an underlying cause. It may be from inflammation or hitting the affected area against something. It could also be a symptom of an underlying condition that require the attention of a healthcare professional. Pain relievers and massage can help reduce the pain temporarily, but seeking medical attention is the best.

How to Treat Mottled Skin – What Should You Do?

mottled skin back

Mottled skin can be self-treated if it has no underlying conditions attached to it. Simple home remedies can help reduce the symptoms of livedo reticularis, such as the following:

1. Green tea

Green tea is a powerful antioxidant that can help to reduce inflammation and pain caused by mottled skin. It improves blood vessel health and overall blood circulation in the body. One cup of green tea daily is enough to reap its benefits.

2. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil helps to rehydrate skin and remove the web patterns from it. Rub two tablespoons of coconut oil over the affected area twice daily until the symptoms lessen.

3. Oatmeal

Oatmeal contains antioxidant properties that reduce patching, discoloration, and sensitive skin. To use oatmeal for mottling, soak it in cold water and apply the resulting paste to the affected skin.

4. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is a soothing gel found in the leaves of the aloe plant. It helps reduce irritation and inflammation, and also assists in clearing discoloration. To use, apply the gel to the affected area daily, and let it sit for an hour each time.

Other Treatments for Mottled Skin

Mottling and patching caused by other medical conditions require specific treatment, depending on the cause. Mottled skin caused by an autoimmune disease can be alleviated when the disease is treated or adequately managed.

For mottled skin caused by medication, discuss your alternatives with your healthcare provider.

If vascular diseases cause your mottled skin, it can be alleviated by effecting healthier lifestyle changes and taking medication that aids the regulation of blood pressure.

There’s no remedy for skin patching and discoloration associated with the end-of-life stage, but the person should be kept warm and comfortable in their final moments.

How Can You Prevent Mottled Skin?

Prevention of mottled skin depends on the factor that caused it in the first place. Mottled skin caused by common conditions such as cold and restricted blood flow can be prevented, while others can only be managed after they happen. Notwithstanding, here are some tips to help prevent mottled skin:

1. Stay Active

Staying active has many benefits for the skin. It improves blood circulation around the body and strengthens the blood vessels. This helps the skin to get adequate oxygen and look healthy.

Group of people exercising

2. Keep Your Body Warm

Staying warm, especially in cold weather, can help reduce the chances of developing mottled skin. Multiple layers of light clothes work better than one heavy layer when keeping warm. Warming affected areas can also help clear up mottling.

3. Reduce Pressure on Your Hand and Feet

Pressure on the arms and feet can cause reduced blood circulation and lead to skin mottling. Don’t stay in the same position for too long. Adjust the position of your limbs from time to time and let blood flow freely.

4. Massage

Massaging mottled skin increases blood flow by relaxing the blood vessels and eliminating discoloration. It also helps to reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain.

When to See a Doctor?

You should see a doctor for mottled skin if any of the following occurs:

  • swelling, ulcers, or painful nodules under the skin
  • fatigue, dizziness, or fainting
  • hypothermia
  • fever
  • raised, itchy rash
  • increased breathing, pulse, and heart rate

Key Takeaway

In cases where the root cause of mottled skin is unsure, a healthcare professional could recommend a skin biopsy to find the cause before discussing further treatment options.

Taking good care of your skin and your body will go a long way in preventing mottled skin and other diseases. For more questions concerning skin, hair, or health, check out our site.

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