Hemosiderin: What is it? It’s dangerous? Causes and Available Treatments

It is a golden brown granular pigment that contains iron derived from ferritin, the initial iron storage protein.

As iron accumulates within the cell, aggregates of ferritin molecules form hemosiderin.

Most of the hemosiderin in Kupffer cells and other macrophages located in tissues throughout the body is derived from the breakdown of erythrocytes. In contrast, in health, most hepatocellular hemosiderin is derived from the iron present in transferrin and, to a lesser extent, in hemoglobin.

Hemosiderin is formed in the liver when there is a local or systemic excess of iron, such as when erythrocyte breakdown is excessive (e.g., hemolytic anemia ) and within areas of liver necrosis.

An excessive systemic iron load characterized by abundant hemosiderin in various tissues without impaired organ function is called hemosiderosis.

In contrast, hemochromatosis is abnormally increased iron storage within the body that can cause liver dysfunction. A noticeable iron accumulation can produce a dark brown or even black liver.

What causes hemosiderin staining?

Hemosiderin staining occurs when red blood cells break down, causing hemoglobin to be stored as hemosiderin.


Your white blood cells, or immune system cells, can remove some of the excess iron released into your skin. But some medical conditions can overwhelm this process and lead to a blemish.

Some common conditions associated with hemosiderin staining include:

  • Trauma.
  • Leg edema.
  • Diabetes.
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Venous ulcers.
  • Venous hypertension.
  • Venous insufficiency.
  • Lipodermatosclerosis is a disease of the skin and connective tissue.
  • Venous treatments.

If your hemosiderin staining occurred as a side effect of a skin injury or treatment, it would likely go away. Stains may remain due to heart disease, vein disease, or chronic wounds.

Pigment may lighten over time, but not in all cases.

Is hemosiderin stain dangerous?

Hemosiderin staining is more than eye pain. While pigmentation itself is not a problem, the conditions that cause discoloration are often severe.

Changes in the skin can indicate poor blood circulation that can trigger chronic pain and other serious medical complications such as leg ulcers and skin infections.

Conditions that damage blood vessels can cause surrounding tissues to flood with fluid and affect blood circulation in that area.

As a result, you can develop localized skin conditions that include:

  • Venous eczema.
  • Dermatitis.
  • Venous ulcers.
  • Cellulitis.
  • Thrombophlebitis.

Treatment for hemosiderin staining

Treatments are available to lighten or reduce blemishes due to trauma or skin procedures.

Topical creams and gels

These common topical treatments can help prevent hemosiderin stains from darkening over time, but in some cases, they may not remove all of the discolorations.

Laser treatments

Laser therapy can be effective for hemosiderin staining. You may need to be treated in more than one session, depending on how dark the spots are and where they are. Laser treatments are not guaranteed to remove the entire stain but can significantly improve cosmetic appearance.

In milder cases of hemosiderin staining, bruising can sometimes go away on its own or lighten over time. Discuss your treatment options with a doctor.

Hemosiderin staining of the skin due to an underlying medical condition may signify that the state needs better treatment or management. You and your doctor need to discover and address the cause, especially diabetes, blood vessel disease, or high blood pressure.


The hemosiderin stain produces bruise-like marks on your body that can range in color from yellow to brown or black. Although it can appear anywhere, it is most common on the lower legs. In many cases, hemosiderin staining can be permanent.

Staining alone is not life-threatening but may indicate a more severe condition. If you notice discolored marks on your body or experience other skin changes, such as itching, peeling, bleeding, swelling, redness, or warmth, schedule a visit with your doctor to discuss possible diagnoses and treatments.