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science
Kaleidoscope of Hurt

The life cycle of a bruise transforms the skin, demonstrating the body’s self-healing power. It's a technicolor display of biology.

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By Daniela Scharffenberg
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Pow!

The collision of solid mass with soft flesh begins a chain reaction, disrupting bloodflow and discoloring the skin long after the pain recedes. Color surfaces on the skin immediately after impact.

World of pain

As blood oozes from the burst blood vessels into the tissues. oxygen-filled hemoglobin shimmers red through the skin.

Still feeling it

Depleted oxygen in the red hemoglobin transforms into blue deoxyhemoglobin. It is still painful to the touch.

Developing color

Enzymes, breaking down deoxygenated blood in the tissues, expand the bruise’s color palette with sulfhemoglobin and choleglobin. Meanwhile, the pain fades.

Beauty mark

Light green biliverdin, a bile pigment, replaces the remaining hemoglobin. By now, the pain is gone.

Vanishing act

After about three weeks, only yellow bilirubin is left behind. As the body perspires it away, the bruise finally disappears.

Boffo!

Mr. Handsome is ready for his next fight.

Credits

Design: Daniela Scharffenberg, Klaas Neumann
Research: Anni Peller, Sabine Devins
Text: Emily Manthei

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