Pallor refers to a loss of the normal skin colour, such that the person looks pale. It may present suddenly or gradually. While it is easier to spot in a light skinned person, it can and does affect all people.

Pallor is usually a result of reduced blood flow. Common causes include:

  • Fainting episodes
  • Low blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Anaemia (low blood count)
  • Shock
  • Serious illness – many serious illnesses, such as cancer and HIV/AIDS, can cause pallor
  • Poor circulation (also known as peripheral vascular disease) – often a result of atherosclerosis/hardening of the arteries – may cause a localised area of pallor, often involving the foot
  • Normal – some people simply have a pale complexion

Most causes of pallor are not dangerous. Your doctor will examine you carefully and may request certain tests, including a blood count to check for anaemia. Further tests are usually only requested when there is doubt about the cause of the pallor, or a suspicion of serious disease.

Any localised area of pallor may signify impaired circulation and should be seen as a medical emergency.

As a side note: pale skin is generally healthier that tanned skin – sun damage is a major cause of skin cancer. We all need to change our perception of what a healthy complexion is. This does affect “white” people more than “black” people because light complexions are at increased risk of skin cancer. But skin cancer can and does affect all skin types in fact.

Pallor, or paleness, can be normal but it is more often a sign of some underlying problem that should be taken seriously.

Author: Dr Colin Burns, retired medical practitioner and wellness coach