Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Are Hickeys Bad For You?



Short answer

Hickeys are commonly harmless bruises from burst blood vessels due to kissing or biting, causing short-term redness, swelling, and tenderness. Rarely, they can lead to long-term effects like scarring and hyperpigmentation. Severe but very rare complications include strokes from blood clots. If complications arise, seek medical help.



Long answer

Physical Effects of Hickeys on Skin and Tissues

A hickey, colloquially known as a love bite or kiss mark, is essentially a bruise caused by sucking or biting the skin hard enough to burst blood vessels beneath the surface. It's critical to understand the physical impact these marks can have on your skin and underlying tissues. Let's break down the effects into short-term and potential long-term consequences to offer a clearer picture.

Short-Term Effects:

  • Broken Blood Vessels: Just like any bruise, hickeys are caused by ruptured capillaries, the small blood vessels found just under the skin. The red or purplish appearance is due to blood seeping into the surrounding tissues.
  • Minor Swelling: Some individuals may notice slight swelling around the hickey, which is a natural response to the injury.
  • Skin Discoloration: The area may go through a range of colors, from red to purple, to brown, as the blood breaks down and is reabsorbed into the body.
  • Sensitivity or Tenderness: The impacted area may be tender to the touch due to the trauma inflicted on the skin and soft tissues.

Potential Long-Term Effects:

  • Scarring: Though rarer, there's a possibility of scarring, especially if the hickey is particularly intense or the skin is damaged from repeated action in the same area.
  • Hyperpigmentation: In some cases, prolonged or frequent hickeys may lead to increased pigmentation in the area which may remain even after the hickey heals.
  • Psychological Impact: Visible hickeys can lead to embarrassment or awkward conversations which, in turn, can increase stress levels—though this may be seen as more of a social effect than a purely physical one.

Furthermore, while hickeys themselves are generally not dangerous beyond the superficial bruising, it's valuable to be aware of the rare but serious risks associated with more aggressive kissing or biting. For instance, there have been isolated reports of more severe consequences such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), stroke, and even permanent nerve damage—although such outcomes are extremely unusual. It's also important to mention that the neck is a delicate area, home to nerves, blood vessels, and the trachea. Excessive pressure on this area has the potential to cause more significant harm.

When it comes to treating hickeys, there's often not much that can be done except to let time do the healing. However, remedies such as cold compresses immediately after the 'injury' and warm compresses after a couple of days may help speed up the healing process. Topical treatments like arnica or vitamin K creams could be used to reduce the appearance of bruising, but these treatments should be approached with caution and ideally under the guidance of a dermatologist or healthcare provider.

It's always a good idea to practice caution and communicate openly with a partner to ensure both parties are comfortable and consent to such marks. If you're concerned about a hickey or if it doesn't heal after a couple of weeks, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare provider to rule out any underlying issues.

Potential Risks of Hickeys: Bruising and Severe Cases

When exploring the question of whether hickeys, those tell-tale markers of an amorous encounter, might be harmful, it is essential to consider the risks associated with such bruises. Hickeys, also known as love bites, result from sucking or biting the skin hard enough to break blood vessels beneath the surface. While typically harmless and more of a cosmetic concern, there are potential risks associated with them that should not be ignored.

Skin Bruising and Tenderness

Hickeys cause a local pooling of blood which results in a bruise. These bruises can vary in color from reddish to dark purplish, similar to any other bruise you might get from a bump or injury. The affected area can be tender to the touch and the bruise itself might be a source of embarrassment or discomfort, depending on its size and location. It should fade within a week or two, much like a regular bruise.

Severity of the Bruise

The severity of a hickey can depend on several factors. The amount of force used, the sensitivity of the skin, and even the individual's age can impact how severe a hickey may appear. Thinner or more sensitive skin can bruise more easily, causing more pronounced hickeys.

Extended Healing Time

For some individuals, particularly those with anemia or bleeding disorders, hickeys might take longer to heal. These conditions can make the bruising look worse and prolong the body's natural healing process.

Rare Medical Complications

There are off-chance, severe cases documented where hickeys have led to medical complications.

  • Risk of Infection: If the skin is broken, there is a risk of infection. Keeping the area clean and monitoring for signs of infection like redness, swelling, or pus is crucial.
  • Blood Clot and Stroke Risk: On extremely rare occasions, a hickey can result in the formation of a blood clot that when dislodged could lead to a stroke. One such case was reported in the New Zealand Medical Journal where a woman suffered a stroke from a hickey that created a blood clot leading to a minor stroke.
  • Arterial Damage: There is also a potential risk of damaging deeper structures in the neck, such as arteries, although this would likely require a level of force beyond what would typically be used to create a hickey.

Psychological Effects

There can also be psychological stress associated with hickeys, such as concerns about the hickey being visible to friends, family, or employers. For teens and young adults, there may be anxiety about parental disapproval or ridicule from peers.

While hickeys are superficial and generally not a cause for medical concern, it's vital to understand the possible outcomes of a love bite, both common and rare. Keeping interactions gentle can reduce the risk of severe bruising and complications. If a hickey or bruise does not begin to fade or shows signs of infection, it's important to consult a healthcare professional.

Lastly, communication with your partner about comfort levels and boundaries regarding hickeys can prevent both physical and psychological discomfort. Consent is, as in all aspects of a relationship, key to a healthy and respectful experience.

Social and Psychological Implications of Hickeys

When it comes to the social and psychological dimensions of receiving a hickey, the perspective can be as diverse as the individuals involved. Hickeys, or love bites, are often seen as a mark of affection, but they also carry connotations that can stir a variety of emotional responses and affect social perception.

Social Perceptions of Hickeys

  • Cultural Variability: Hickeys may be perceived differently across cultures. In some, a visible hickey is considered a taboo or an inappropriate display of intimacy, while in others, it might be seen as a playful or harmless token of affection.
  • Age Groups: Among teenagers and young adults, hickeys can sometimes be looked at as a 'badge of honor' or a way of displaying one's romantic status. In contrast, in professional or mature settings, they're often viewed as unprofessional or juvenile.
  • Social Circles: Within one's immediate social circle of friends and family, the response to seeing a hickey can range from humor and teasing to concern or disapproval, heavily influenced by the relationship dynamics and prior conversations about intimacy and boundaries.

Psychological Impact of Hickeys

  • Self-consciousness: Having a visible hickey can lead to feeling self-conscious, especially if an individual is not comfortable with public scrutiny or attention related to their private lives.
  • Peer Pressure: Particularly among youths, there can often be an indirect pressure to exhibit hickeys as a means of confirming one's sexual experience or desirability, which can foster unhealthy attitudes towards physical relationships.
  • Consent and Control: Psychologically, the giving or receiving of a hickey can play into dynamics of consent and control within a relationship. It's important that both parties are comfortable with this form of expression and that it's not used as a means of marking 'territory' without consent.
  • Emotional Associations: The emotional response to getting a hickey can vary; some might associate it with affection and passion, while others might feel embarrassment or regret, especially if the hickey is a result of a spur-of-the-moment decision that doesn't align with one's values or current relationship status.

Considering the potential for mixed interpretations and the varied emotional responses hickeys can elicit, it becomes crucial to communicate with partners about comfort levels and boundaries regarding this intimate gesture. Moreover, one should be mindful of the context in which a hickey is given or received, and the message it may unconsciously send within one's social and professional circles.

When it comes to managing reactions to a hickey, strategies include covering the area with clothing or makeup, or frankly discussing it with peers if brought into conversation. On the relationship front, it's wise to reflect on what the action signifies for all parties involved and to have honest conversations that can foster a healthy understanding and mutual respect.

Remember, the impact of a hickey goes beyond the temporary bruise; it can carry social and psychological weight that deserves consideration. As always, mutual consent, open communication, and respect for one's boundaries and social context remain paramount in navigating the waters of such physical expressions of affection.

Hickey-Related Complications: Rare but Serious Concerns

Most of us are familiar with hickeys, those tell-tale marks that often result from a moment of passion. While they are typically harmless and fade on their own, there are some rare but serious complications associated with hickeys that we should be aware of.

Blood Clots and Strokes: One of the most alarming complications that can arise from hickeys is the formation of a blood clot that can potentially lead to a stroke. In 2011, the New Zealand Medical Journal reported a case involving a woman who suffered a stroke from a hickey. The suction caused by a hickey can damage blood vessels and lead to the formation of a blood clot. If this clot travels to the heart or brain, it can result in serious health issues, including stroke.

Skin Infections: If the skin is broken during the formation of a hickey, there is a potential risk for skin infection. The human mouth is home to a wide array of bacteria. When these bacteria come into contact with an open wound, they can cause infections that might require medical treatment.

Dermatological Impact: In some cases, excessive sucking can lead to more than just a temporary mark; it can cause lasting damage to the skin. This damage can include dermal scarring, hyperpigmentation, or even a permanent "tattoo" effect if the blood vessels beneath the skin are seriously damaged.

Medication Interactions: For individuals taking anticoagulant medication, the risks associated with hickeys can increase significantly. These medications, which are often prescribed to prevent blood clots, can enhance the chances of bruising and may lead to more pronounced and lasting marks.

Allergic Reactions: Although it's rare, some people might experience an allergic reaction to the saliva left on the skin, which can result in itching, redness, and swelling, known as contact dermatitis.

In conclusion, while most hickeys do not lead to serious health issues, it's important to be aware of the potential complications. Maintaining open communication with partners and being aware of each other's health status, including any medications being taken, can help to prevent any unforeseen and serious repercussions.

Remember that if any unusual symptoms appear after receiving a hickey, such as difficulty moving a limb, vision problems, or signs of an infection (excessive redness, warmth, or pus), it's vital to seek medical attention immediately.

As always, showing affection is a normal part of relationships, but it should be done with awareness and care for each other's wellbeing.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, individuals with certain medical conditions such as bleeding disorders, diabetes, or dermatological conditions could be at higher risk when it comes to hickeys. These conditions might lead to more extensive bruising, delayed healing, or an increased chance of complications like infection or skin damage. It's best for individuals with such conditions to exercise caution and possibly consult with their healthcare provider.

Hickeys don't have any recognized physical health benefits. They are generally considered more of a social or emotional expression of affection rather than something with positive health implications. It's important to approach such marks with consideration for both partners' comfort and the potential for short-term discomfort, like tenderness or bruising.

While there's no instant cure for hickeys, certain methods may help speed up the fading process. Applying a cold compress shortly after receiving the hickey can reduce swelling, and using a warm compress after 48 hours may assist in dilating blood vessels to clear the pooled blood. Gentle massage, aloe vera, and vitamin C or K creams might also help diminish the mark more quickly, but always use such treatments with care.

Communication is key when addressing concerns about hickeys. Have an honest conversation with your partner about your comfort levels and the reasons for your discomfort, be it physical, social, or professional. Discussing boundaries and obtaining mutual consent can prevent discomfort and ensure that displays of affection are agreeable and respectful to both partners.

Ask a question about Hickeys and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • broken blood vessels
  • minor swelling
  • skin discoloration
  • sensitivity or tenderness

Possible long-term side effects

  • scarring
  • hyperpigmentation
  • psychological impact
  • risk of infection
  • blood clot and stroke risk
  • arterial damage
  • dermatological impact
  • medication interactions
  • allergic reactions

Healthier alternatives

  • communication with partner
  • seeking consent
  • gentle interactions
  • using clothing or makeup for cover

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 12-09-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 12-09-2023

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