A Moment of Science

It’s Not Easy Being Blue

Turning blue in the face is easier said than done.

Blue fluorescent light sculpted into the shape of a human face

Photo: Jeremy Richardson (Flickr)

That perfect blue glow is difficult to achieve.

Many a kid has tried and many a kid has failed. Is it actually possible to hold your breath until you turn blue in the face? Here’s the science behind ghastly skin tones:

A Case of the Blues

We get our color from the pigments in our skin and from the red blood flowing beneath its surface. When oxygen levels drop, blood turns a darker shade of red. And if oxygen levels drop 80 percent, skin would appear blue due to how our tissues absorb and reflect light.

Though hypothetically possible, you can’t turn blue out of a sheer act of will. Your body is smarter than you are and would cause you to pass out long before the oxygen level in your blood dropped enough to turn you blue. And while unconscious, you’d automatically start breathing again.

A Whiter Shade of Pale

Even in death, people don’t take on a blue tint. When you die, blood stops circulating and settles down in the blood vessels at the lowest point in the body. The skin, drained of blood, appears pale and chalky.

When it comes to turning blue, it’s easier said than done.

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