What Causes Brown Skin Discoloration and Will It Go Away?


Tattoos are extremely popular and can be beautiful works of art. However, not all skin discoloration is attractive or intentional. One of the byproducts of a chronic vein condition is skin staining, where the skin around the lower legs, and ankles shows dark reddish-brown splotches. What are the reddish brown blotches from skin staining, and more importantly, will they go away?

What Is Skin Staining?

The skin staining is caused by ongoing chronic vein reflux. Blood pools in the lower legs and as the red blood cells break down, they release iron. The trapped iron then seeps into the skin, staining it a dark brown or reddish color, visible on the skin’s surface. This skin staining is typically permanent but may improve with treatment. Skin that has been stained becomes more fragile and delicate than normal skin and could break open and be damaged more easily. 

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What Causes Skin Staining?

The vein condition called vein reflux is one of the reasons this skin discoloration happens. When you have vein reflux, blood pools in your legs and ankles. You may experience some pain and swelling lower legs and feet. 

Skin staining can also occur with the presence of a blood clot. In the case of thrombophlebitis (a condition in which a blood clot in a vein causes inflammation and pain), this nearly always occurs in large bulging visible varicose veins. When this happens the veins close down and result in tenderness, redness, pain, and swelling. It may take several weeks to months to resolve

Another reason could be an underlying medical condition that is creating the problem, like Schamberg’s Disease. This doesn’t have a specific treatment available to cure the skin discoloration but is also not life-threatening.

Schamburgs DiseaseSchamberg's Disease

Will Skin Staining Go Away On Its Own?

For a vein condition, leg elevation and the use of compression stockings will help minimize the effect, but won’t prevent it from progressing. The only thing that will cause the staining to stop its natural worsening is to treat the underlying condition - the pooling of blood in the leg veins. A vein screening will determine the presence of that condition, and vein treatments will help keep the staining from getting worse. 


If you already have skin staining, patients with varicose veins with the overlying skin stained brown can have some improvement in appearance.

In my experience, however, each person is unique and responds differently to a treatment. It is not possible to predict exactly how each person will respond to treatment. But, by closing down other abnormal veins, the body is able to slowly process the staining and it does fade somewhat - and occasionally completely. I recall treating one patient who came to me with considerable staining. In that particular case, the skin staining completely cleared up over a period of 2 years. So it can happen, but most of the time I see it lighten and fade but not disappear completely. 

It’s essential to receive treatment for your vein condition, or the staining will continue and the discolored area will get larger over time. Schedule a free vein screening immediately if you notice discoloration in your lower legs and ankles. 



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