Picture this: You’re getting dressed for your first-ever job interview. You’re in the bathroom, hyping yourself up and checking whether you’ve got anything stuck in your teeth when you notice a big purple hickey on your neck.
It happens to the best of us.
Hickeys are nothing to be ashamed of — they’re a sign that you got some action, so honestly, congratulations. Still, they’re not necessarily appropriate in every situation.
Some people just don’t need to see physical evidence of your amazing makeout session — potential new bosses included.
“Hickeys are essentially bruises in the skin, which is made of red blood cells that leak out from the blood vessels themselves,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City.
When someone sucks on your neck hard enough, they cause the blood vessels right below the skin to burst and bleed into the skin.
Hickeys can take anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks to heal. It all depends on how easily you bruise and, ahem, how much effort went into creating the hickey in the first place.
The trapped blood beneath the surface of your skin will eventually be broken down and reabsorbed by the body, but it may take a little patience on your part.
Also, don’t be surprised if you see your little love bite transforming during the healing process. It may darken at first, then become blotchy, then change colors, like pale yellow. Fascinating stuff, really, and this is totally normal (albeit, not the sexiest thing in the whole world).
The bottom line is, as with any bruise, there’s no way to make a hickey instantly go away. So if you really need it gone immediately, your best bet is to simply cover it up. Turtlenecks were made for this! Scarves! Necklaces!
If you have a bit of time on your hands, there are also a few hickey remedies that are effective enough to speed up the process. Many techniques, though, won’t help and can actually make it worse. (We’ll debunk those, don’t worry.)
Let’s explore the not-so-mysterious science of hickey healing.
“The best way to heal a hickey quickly is to help the skin clear the red blood cells as effectively as possible,” Zeichner tells Greatist.
While there’s not much scientific evidence that the cold spoon method works for hickeys specifically, it’s a doctor-recommend treatment for bruises, and a hickey is simply a type of bruise.
A cold object — such as a cold spoon, frozen peas, or even ice — can accomplish this by reducing blood flow and cooling down the blood vessels. This is the single most effective method for helping a hickey heal (or not to bruise so much in the first place).
With this method, time is of the essence. Start immediately after the hickey forms. You’ll want to be pretty proactive because hickey’s start to form immediately after the sucking occurs.
Remember to never apply cold objects directly to the skin. Instead, wrap them in a cloth or towel first.
Arnica is a “botanical extract rich in antioxidants,” Zeichner says. It’s potentially helpful, although research on arnica’s ability to heal hickeys is sparse.
Of studies available, research suggests arnica may reduce the appearance of bruises. So it’s at least worth a try.
“It is thought to have anti-inflammatory effects, improving conditions ranging from muscle aches to bruises,” Zeichner says. Though he admits the exact mechanism isn’t known.
Arnica is typically used in gel or lotion form for bruises and can be applied topically directly to the bruise several times per day. An oral version is also available, but it’s not FDA-approved.
Again, research on the effectiveness of vitamin K for hickeys isn’t exactly robust. It’s almost like hickeys aren’t a priority for scientific research?!
“Vitamin K is an essential co-factor for the production of clotting factors in the blood,” Zeichner says.
Vitamin K is available as a gel or cream, which can be applied directly to the bruise twice per day.
If you’re not in a rush to heal the hickey but still want some relief from having a big ole bruise on your neck, you can use certain natural ingredients to soothe the skin.
Just be gentle and don’t apply too much pressure, or you risk making the bruise worse!
Cocoa butter is high in fatty acids, so it hydrates the skin, improves elasticity, provides a protective barrier, and just generally feels really good to apply.
Aloe vera can also be used to soothe skin. You can get the gel straight from the plant by simply cutting a leaf in half to reveal the thick pulp inside (some natural foods stores actually sell the leaves), or you can buy the bottled gel.
Aloe vera has a cool, soothing effect, which is why it’s the go-to treatment for sunburns.
Lastly, you might try using the inside of a banana peel. Strange, yes, but also very eco-friendly.
Physically covering a hickey is the most reliable solution. If you hate turtlenecks with a passion, it’s the middle of summer, or your hickey is in an awkward spot that even the most modest clothing can’t conceal, then it’s time to practice your makeup skills.
1. Start with a primer, then add a color-correcting concealer
Depending on your skin tone and how old the hickey is, it may appear red, purple, dark brown, or yellow.
2. After the color corrector, add concealer that’s one shade lighter than your skin tone
Use one with salmon undertones if your skin has less pigment. One with orangey-red tones is better for skin with more pigment.
3. Now blend, blend, blend
Make sure the coverage matches the surrounding area and avoid rubbing or brushing too much, as that may move the makeup out of place or make the bruising worse. Gently tapping into the skin works best.
Lastly, finish with a setting spray or powder to make sure your makeup lasts.
There are a ton of DIY hickey solutions out there that not only aren’t effective, but might make things worse. Here are some suggestions to stay away from.
Supposedly, massaging a hickey will physically “break it down” until it disappears, but that’s not really a thing.
Your body will break down and reabsorb the blood all on its own, and massages can actually make a hickey worse. If you apply too much pressure, you’ll break more blood vessels under the skin and increase the bruised area.
Rub with a coin
Why a coin of all things? We have no idea. But the internet won’t let this idea die.
Applying pressure with a coin uses a similar concept as massage. But it involves even more intense pressure that could make the hickey much worse, says Zeichner.
Toothbrush or toothpaste
Once again, using a toothbrush rests on the false idea that massage will help heal a hickey. While this technique is quite gentle and likely won’t make anything worse, there’s just no evidence that it will help the healing process.
Since we’re on teeth… at some point in human history, we decided toothpaste is a DIY solution for everything, and hickeys did not escape this lore.
Zeichner theorizes the reason toothpaste was recommended so ubiquitously is that it used to contain an anti-inflammatory ingredient called triclosan, which may have helped calm the skin.
Since triclosan is no longer used in toothpaste, this technique is a total dud.
Lip balm cap
Using the cap from a tube of lip balm to massage the skin is yet another suggestion that pops up all over Google. As with the massage techniques listed above, this won’t “break apart” the hickey either.
Zeichner says the lip balm itself may be more useful than the cap since it contains oils and waxes that soothe and protect the skin overlying the hickey.
Peppermint oil or other essential oils
Although peppermint oil has anti-inflammatory properties, undiluted essential oils can irritate your skin — not a great idea when you already have a bright bruise, says Zeichner.
It’s best to stick with gentler alternatives like aloe vera.
If you want to avoid this whole ordeal in the first place, but you also really love making out (who can blame you), then simply ask your partner(s) to avoid sucking too hard.
If you avoid excessive suction, you’ll avoid bursting those blood vessels under the skin, Zeichner says.
Some people bruise more easily than others, so only you can know how hard is too hard. If getting into it is your jam, then experiment with different placements for those hickeys. Aim for areas that won’tbe visible in a job interview — like your collarbone, chest, or even hips.
Kim Wong-Shing is a writer in New Orleans. Her work spans beauty, wellness, relationships, pop culture, identity, and other topics. Her website is kimwongshing.com.