Human skin also changes color as a result of hundreds of different medical conditions.
Pale skin, yellow skin, and cyanosis – a potentially serious condition of bluish discoloration of the skin, lips, nails, and mucous membranes due to lack of oxygen in the blood – are common symptoms. These color changes often go unnoticed, however, because they often involve a fairly universal shift in skin color, Changizi said. The observer in most instances will just assume the patient’s current skin color is the baseline color. The challenge is that there is no color contrast against the baseline for the observer to pick up on, as the baseline skin color has changed altogether.
(To hear Changizi address the age-old question of why human veins look blue, see: http://blogger.rpi.edu/approach/2010/04/26/so-why-do-our-veins-look-blue/)
One potential solution, Changizi said, is for hospitals to outfit patients with gowns and sheets that are nude-colored and closely match their skin tone. Another solution is to develop adhesive tabs in a large palette of skin-toned colors. Physicians could then choose the tabs that most closely resemble the patient’s skin tone, and place the tabs at several places on the skin of the patient. Both techniques should afford doctors and clinicians an easy and effective tool to record the skin tone of a patient, and see if it deviates – even very slightly – from its “baseline” color over time.
“If a patient’s skin color shifts a small amount, the change will often be imperceptible to doctors and nurses,” Changizi said. “If that patient is wearing a skin-colored gown or adhesive tab, however, and their skin uniformly changes slightly more blue, the initially ‘invisible’ gown or tab will appear bright and yellow to the observer.” …