Solar Purpura

What Is It, Appearance, Causes, and More

Author: Corinne Tarantino, MPH

Editors: Alyssa Haag, Józia McGowan, DO

Illustrator: Jillian Dunbar

Copyeditor: Joy Mapes

Modified: 4 Jan 2024

What is solar purpura?

Solar purpura is a common skin disorder characterized by easy bruising and the appearance of flat, purple bruises. Solar purpura is more commonly known as senile purpura, but is also sometimes called actinic purpura or Bateman purpura. The names “solar” and “actinic” refer to the link between this condition and extensive sun exposure. Meanwhile, “senile” refers to the condition’s occurrence in older individuals. 

Purpura occurs when red blood cells leak from the blood vessels into the skin, creating a discolored area on the skin that is larger than 3 millimeters (about 0.04 inches). In contrast to other bruises or allergic reactions, purpura does not blanch (i.e., turn white) with pressure, nor is it tender or itchy. Although the appearance of solar purpura may be bothersome to some, the disorder typically is not dangerous. 

What does solar purpura look like?

Solar purpura looks like purple and red blotches, or bruises, with irregular edges. They are typically 1 to 4 centimeters (0.4 to 1.6 inches) in diameter and appear on the skin of the hands, forearms, and legs. Around the area with solar purpura, the skin may be cracked and thin, resembling tissue paper, and it may show other signs of sun damage (e.g., wrinkles, light brown spots, a slightly yellow hue to the skin).

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What causes solar purpura?

Solar purpura is most likely caused by many years of ultraviolet (UV) light exposure from sunlight. Long-term exposure to UV light can damage the connective tissue in skin. Subsequently, a minor trauma to an area of damaged skin can burst the blood vessels in the skin, creating the characteristic skin discoloration of solar purpura

Solar purpura may also be caused by a zinc deficiency, as zinc is a mineral that the body uses in wound healing. Additionally, common anticoagulant medications, like aspirin, minimize blood clotting, which can lead to increased blood flow after a minor trauma and the formation of larger purpura

How is solar purpura diagnosed?

Solar purpura is diagnosed by evaluating the signs and symptoms, understanding the individual’s medical history, and conducting a thorough physical examination. Laboratory tests are not usually conducted because individuals with solar purpura tend to have typical blood test results.

How is solar purpura treated?

Solar purpura will often resolve on its own in about 1 to 3 weeks without treatment. Solar purpura may be prevented by wearing sunscreen and protective clothing when outdoors and otherwise minimizing UV light exposure whenever possible.

How long does solar purpura last?

Typically, solar purpura lasts 1 to 3 weeks. However, a slight, brown discoloration of the skin or scarring may remain after the initial solar purpura bruise goes away.

What are the most important facts to know about solar purpura?

Solar purpura is a skin disorder characterized by areas of purple or red discoloration, found most commonly on the arms, forearms, and legs of elderly people. It is often caused by minor traumas to sun-damaged skin, and it is diagnosed by a thorough medical evaluation. Solar purpura typically goes away within 1 to 3 weeks without treatment.

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Related links

Actinic keratosis
Benign hyperpigmented skin lesions: clinical practice

Resources for research and reference

Alexandrescu, D., & Levi, M. (2021). The vascular purpuras. In K. Kaushansky, J. Prchal, L. Burns, M. Lichtman, M. Levi, & D. Linch (Eds.), Williams hematology (10th ed.). McGraw-Hill. 

Bolognia, J. L., & Braverman, I. M. (2018). Skin manifestations of internal disease. In J. L. Jameson, A. Fauci, D. Kasper, S. Hauser, D. Longo, & J. Loscalzo (Eds.), Harrison's principles of internal medicine (20th ed.). McGraw-Hill. 

Ceilley, R. (2017). Treatment of actinic purpura. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 10(6): 44-50. Retrieved from 

Hafsi, W., Masood, S., & Badri, T. (2020, August 8). Actinic purpura. In StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from 

Kerns, M., Chien, A., & Kang, S. (2019). Skin aging. In S. Kang, M. Amagai, A. Bruckner, A. Enk, D. Margolis, A. McMichael, & J. Orringer (Eds.), Fitzpatrick's dermatology (9th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.