Skin Discoloration on Legs: Causes and Treatment Options

Skin discoloration on the legs can be a cosmetic concern as well as an indication of an underlying medical condition.

Key takeaways

  • Skin discoloration on legs can result from various factors, including aging, sun exposure, and medical conditions
  • Chronic venous insufficiency is a common cause of skin discoloration and may require medical attention
  • Identifying the cause of skin discoloration is crucial for determining appropriate treatment and preventive measures

Identifying causes of skin discoloration

Recognizing the potential causes of skin discoloration on your legs can allow you to take appropriate actions and seek medical advice when necessary. Skin discoloration below the knee is more common in individuals over the age of 50.

Chronic venous insufficiency

Illustration of a leg that has chronic venous insufficiency

Skin discoloration on the legs is a common issue that can be caused by chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). CVI is a condition characterized by poor blood circulation, leading to blood pooling in the leg veins. Consequently, skin pigmentation changes may occur, especially around the ankles. Darkened or reddish-brown patches of skin are commonly seen in CVI, along with other symptoms such as leg swelling, pain, and itchiness.


Hyperpigmentation is a condition where certain areas of the skin appear darker than the surrounding skin due to an overproduction of melanin. This can be caused by various factors such as aging, sunburn, and exposure to the sun. An example of hyperpigmentation is Melasma which often results in the appearance of tan or brown patches on the skin.


Vitiligo is a condition that affects the pigmentation of the skin, resulting in the appearance of lighter patches. This condition is caused by an autoimmune reaction in which the immune system erroneously attacks the melanocytes that produce melanin. Although vitiligo is not harmful, it can cause emotional distress due to the visible changes in the skin's appearance.

Eczema and psoriasis

Eczema and psoriasis are inflammatory skin conditions that can cause discoloration. Eczema causes red, itchy patches while psoriasis results in scaly plaques. Both may be related to immune system abnormalities.

Sun Exposure

Sun exposure on a woman's legs

Prolonged exposure to the sun can cause discoloration on your legs. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can trigger melanin production, leading to uneven pigmentation or darkening of the skin. To prevent discoloration, it is recommended to wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen when spending extended periods of time in the sun.

Individuals, especially those with lighter skin tones, may experience skin discoloration due to exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation - NIH

Skin cancer

It is crucial to be aware of potential signs of skin cancer, such as changes in the appearance of a mole. Irregular borders, an increase in size, or a mixture of colors should be checked by a healthcare professional.

Genetic causes

Some individuals may have skin pigmentation disorders such as albinism, characterized by reduced or absent melanin production. Alternatively, tinea versicolor is a fungal infection causing small, discolored patches. Lastly, birthmarks and sun damage are other common reasons for skin discoloration on the legs.

When addressing skin discoloration, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional to obtain a proper diagnosis and determine the most appropriate treatment options.


Several types of  medicines cause skin discoloration on legs

Drug-induced skin pigmentation can occur with certain medications, including antimalarials and cytostatic treatments.

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections can also lead to skin discoloration below the knee. Essential to note, that certain types of fungi affect the skin's pigmentation, resulting in darker or lighter patches. The yeast infection known as Tinea Versicolor, for example, can cause distinct color changes, typically appearing as light or dark brown patches on the skin.

Treatment approaches

When dealing with skin discoloration on your legs, it's essential to consult with a doctor first to determine the underlying cause.

Compression stockings

A woman wearing compression stockings on her legs

Compression stockings are a popular way to improve blood flow and circulation. They can aid in reducing inflammation and minimizing symptoms like itching and swelling in the lower legs and feet. Additionally, incorporating regular exercise into your routine is also beneficial as it promotes healthy blood circulation and strengthens your blood vessels.

Vein treatments

A leg receives sclerotherapy treatment

If the skin is discolored due to capillary issues, doctors may recommend sclerotherapy or laser therapy. Sclerotherapy involves injecting a chemical solution into the affected blood vessels, causing them to collapse and fade over time. Laser treatment, on the other hand, uses heat to break down the pigmentation in the blood vessels and lighten the skin.

Hyperpigmentation treatments

Hyperpigmentation is one of the causes of skin discoloration, and it can be treated effectively with chemical peels or topical creams containing hydroquinone. Chemical peels work by removing the outer layers of the skin, which allows the lighter and newer skin to come to the surface. Hydroquinone, on the other hand, inhibits the production of melanin, which is responsible for skin color. These treatments can be very helpful in achieving an even skin tone.

Topical treatments like moisturizers

A woman is applying moisturizer to her lower legs

To alleviate dry or itchy skin, moisturizers can relieve and promote healthier skin. If the inflammation is present, anti-inflammatory creams or medications may be prescribed by your doctor. It's important to remember that each case is unique, and your doctor may suggest a combination of these treatments or other therapy options to address your specific situation.

Always follow your doctor's advice and maintain a healthy lifestyle to improve the overall condition of your skin and promote optimal blood flow.

Risk Factors

It's important to identify the risk factors that can cause skin discoloration on the legs. If you have a medical history of vein disorders, are prone to developing sores or ulcers, or have chronic leg pain or swelling, be aware that you may be at greater risk.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes purple patches on the legs?

Purple patches on the legs can have different causes, including minor skin conditions like bruising or eczema, or serious medical conditions such as chronic venous insufficiency or deep vein thrombosis. If you observe any unusual purple patches on your legs, it is advised to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis.

How to treat leg discoloration due to poor circulation?

Leg discoloration caused by poor circulation can be a serious issue. It's important to address the root cause of the problem. Depending on the diagnosis, treatment options may include wearing compression stockings, regular exercise, elevating your legs, and taking medication. It's best to consult a healthcare provider to determine the most suitable treatment plan for your specific situation.

What can cause sudden discoloration of the legs?

Legs may suddenly change color due to various reasons, such as allergic reactions, injuries, acute infections or blood circulation issues. It is crucial to seek medical attention promptly if you experience sudden leg discoloration to determine the cause and initiate appropriate treatment.

How do you remove lower leg discoloration effectively?

The treatment options for removing discoloration in the lower leg can vary depending on the root cause. In some cases, topical creams, oral medications, laser treatments, and laser vein therapy can be used. It is important to consult with your healthcare provider to determine the most effective treatment for your condition.

What is hemosiderin staining, and how does it affect the legs?

Hemosiderin staining is a skin discoloration that appears as brown patches caused by an iron storage complex called hemosiderin, which is present in the skin. This condition is commonly seen in people with chronic venous insufficiency, which leads to blood pooling in the legs, causing inflammation and hemosiderin leakage from the blood vessels. This leakage results in the formation of dark, pigmented patches on the legs. Effective management of the underlying venous issue can help alleviate hemosiderin staining.

The bottom line

It is crucial to seek medical attention immediately if you notice persistent, worsening, or alarming symptoms such as pain, swelling, or sudden skin discoloration on your legs. Receiving timely diagnosis and treatment can prevent complications and significantly improve overall health outcomes.



American Cancer Society. (2021). Skin Color Changes

National Library of Medicine. (2023). Albinism

WebMD. (2023). What To Know About Hemosiderin

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