If you’ve ever gotten in the shower to find yourself blooming with unexplained bruises, you’re not alone. And just like everyone else who this happens to, you’ve probably racked your brain for answers. Lucky you: We’ve got some.
First off, most bruises come from broken blood vessels or capillaries near the skin’s surface. Usually this happens when you hit into something, like a door or edge of a table, with some force. The blood leaks from the vessels and shows up black and blue (and eventually purple or orange or yellow or green as it is reabsorbed) on the surface of your skin.
A gnarly bruise every once in a while is totally normal, especially if you’re clumsy. But are you always covered in unsightly splotches? Here are seven potential reasons why, as well as whether you have anything to worry about.
You’re low on vitamin C
You likely don’t have scurvy (a rare condition marked by extreme vitamin C deficiency), but you could still be low on the stuff. Having a deficiency of this important antioxidant, which helps us heal and repair tissues in our bodies, can cause symptoms like dry skin, bleeding gums, and a decreased ability to fight sickness. According to University of Maryland Medical Center, low vitamin C could cause a decreased wound-healing rate, too, which is why bruises may show up and take forever to go away.
Nutritionist Tara Coleman ensures her clients get plenty of vitamin C by eating whole foods in all the colors of the rainbow. She also suggests buying seasonal when reaching for fruits and veggies. “Seasonal produce is not only better tasting, but it is typically much less expensive because it doesn’t have to travel as far to get to the store,” she says.
Your skin is thin or you’re low on collagen
Have you ever seen an older person with bruises along their arms? It’s not an uncommon sight, and that’s because as you age, your skin loses collagen. Collagen is the main protein found in our bodies, giving skin its connectivity, tightness, and plumpness. The less collagen you have, the thinner your skin and the more prone your skin is to bruising. Women tend to bruise more easily than men because they have thinner skin—with less collagen—than men.
Collagen is so crucial to the integrity of your skin that when your body struggles to make enough or to utilize it correctly, severe bruising is one of the first signs, reports the Journal of Hematology. Fun fact: Vitamin C is also crucial in building collagen—which is just another reason to eat your fruits and veggies!
You take certain meds or supps
If you’ve ever had surgery, you know that part of your pre-op is to ensure you aren’t taking any medications or supplements that will increase bleeding. These drugs all prevent blood clotting, which makes bruising a lot easier.
If you experience bruising that you suspect is related to your medication, talk to your doctor. Certain foods or supplements can thin the blood dramatically enough to cause easy bruising as well. For instance, someone who takes daily doses of omega-3 fatty acids and flaxseed oil—both of which thin the blood—might see more frequent bruising, according to the Canadian Pharmacutical Journal.
You lift Really heavy
When you are lifting extremely heavy weights, blood vessels can burst and bruise the skin. And when you are ‘feeling the burn,’ microscopic tears in the muscle fibers you are using can also cause bruises.
You are anemic
Low iron—or cases of anemia—can amount to easy bruising. Anemia is the condition in which the blood doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells, which can be caused by disease or a vitamin deficiency, like iron deficiency.
Coleman recommends that people, especially vegans or vegetarians, who are worried about iron intake consume it with vitamin C, which bolsters iron absorption. Coleman reminds her patients that both caffeine and calcium prevent iron absorption, so avoid consuming them to support healthy iron levels when consuming iron. Iron supplements are a safe and common way to increase iron intake.
You have an illness
Easy bruising can be also related to an underlying diseases, such as diabetes, certain blood cancers, autoimmune disorders, and purpuric dermatosis (leaky blood vessels), according to Archives of Diseases in Childhood.
If you suddenly begin to bruise in multiple locations—especially if the bruises are painful or on the abdomen, face, or back—with no known cause, or if you have a family history of blood or clotting disorders, check in with your doctor immediately.