Ever notice strange bruises appearing for no obvious reason?
You’re not alone. Unexplained bruises can make you feel like you’re going insane; you’ll run through dozens of possibilities, but you won’t be able to figure out where you picked up the injury.
Did I hit my leg against something on the way to work? Am I literally punching myself in the arm while I sleep?
The real question, of course, is why this doesn’t seem to happen as much to men. Women pick up bruises much more easily, according to dermatologist Jeffrey Benabio, MD, FAAD. Most of these bruises occur on the legs and buttocks.
There are a few reasons for the strange discrepancy.
First, we’ll need to understand bruising, or we’ll be cruising for a….well, let’s just leave the bad wordplay for another time.
Bruises occur when blood leaks into the tissues just below the surface of the skin (try not to think too hard about that). The skin consists of three layers: the epidermis (outer layer), dermis (middle layer), and hypodermis (lowest layer).
The hypodermis mostly consists of fat, while the dermis contains capillaries and sweat glands. The epidermis is the visible layer of the skin. Bruising can occur through any layer, but the deeper the bruise, the darker the color.
With this in mind, there are a few reasons why women are more susceptible to bruising than men. Several studies have shown that oral contraceptives can inhibit coagulation, likely because estrogen plays some role in the process. It’s therefore not too much of a stretch to suggest that estrogen might affect bruising in a significant way.
But basic biology probably plays a bigger role. As Dr. Benabio notes on his blog, women typically have thinner skin than men (and no, we don’t mean emotionally). They also have a higher concentration of fat in certain areas, including the legs.
Finally, women and men have structurally different skin. Male skin has a thick collagen layer, which may hold the blood vessels in place more securely, reducing bruising.
To limit the effects of bruising, you need to take quick action.
The UK’s National Health Service recommends cooling the affected area with a cold compress. You should also keep the affected area (usually a leg) elevated, which prevents the blood from pooling. After a few days, switch to warm compresses to help the bruise heal.
You should also make sure that you’re getting sufficient nutrition; deficiencies of vitamins B12, C, K, and folic acid can contribute to unexplained bruising.
“Eat plenty of blueberries or broccoli for vitamin K; citrus for vitamin C; eggs, dairy, meat, or fish for vitamin B12; and leafy green vegetables for folic acid,” Dr. Benabio writes. “All of these vitamins are needed for good blood clotting and healing.
One more important note: If you consistently see unexplained bruises forming, see your physician. Bruising can indicate bleeding disorders and certain chronic inflammatory conditions, so you should make sure that you’re otherwise healthy.
If you’re on birth control, your doctor may also suggest different medications to lessen the effect. For most women, however, the occasional unexplained bruise isn’t anything to worry about.