Broken Capillaries: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention
Broken capillaries are tiny veins that can appear through the skin on your face, legs and chest. Although these spidery, reddish blemishes don’t pose a serious health risk, you may want to get rid of them for cosmetic reasons. It’s a fairly common condition, which is why we’ve brought in four experts to share their expertise on the key causes, along with the most effective treatment and prevention options.
What are broken capillaries?
“Broken capillaries, commonly known as spider veins, or by medical terminology telangiectasias, are tiny blood vessels that we see on the surface of the skin,” says Manhattan plastic surgeon Dr. Mark Schwartz. “Most of these blood vessels are capillaries which connect arteries and veins. Aside from the face, broken capillaries are also commonly found on the legs, especially at the ankles and knees.”
Key causes of broken capillaries
Broken blood vessels can be due to a number of different causes, the most common being damage to the skin from irritation, inflammation, and repeated exposure to the sun. While some causes are preventable, others are beyond control.
“This is one of the prime factors responsible for the development of dilated capillaries,” says facial plastic surgeon Dr. Vartan Mardirossian from Jupiter, FL. “If parents or immediate relatives of a patient have a history of varicose veins, then a genetic cause is very likely. This can also be a predisposition that can combine with other factors.”
Dr. Mardirossian also advises the following are all causes of broken capillaries:
Thanks to the action of estrogen and progesterone, during pregnancy, women have a higher amount of blood running through their bodies. This results in enlargement of the capillaries, thereby leading to the development of broken vessels or spider veins that typically appear on the abdomen.
Broken capillaries are apparent in people who suffer from elevated or reduced blood flow due to leg injuries. People who spend a long time standing, followed by pronged sitting or lying down, are also more susceptible.
Pregnant women, women passing through menopausal stage, and children going through puberty may develop spider veins as their bodies try to adjust to changes in hormone levels.
If the ability of the liver to break down estrogen and progesterone is impaired, then the levels of those hormones may rise, therefore causing dilation in the capillaries.
The skin region surrounding the face is more likely to suffer damages than other parts of the body, which is why it’s more common to find broken capillaries on the face. Spider veins may form due to facial skin damage caused by wind, changes in temperature and even glasses pressing on certain areas of the face.
Repeated exposure to the sun is also a key cause of broken capillaries. “The constant damage to the skin caused by chronic sunburn forces it to try to recover and repair itself by making new vessels,” says Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse. “The UV also breaks down collagen, making the vessels more apparent.”
» If you’re concerned about the appearance of broken capillaries on your skin, talk to one of our cosmetic doctors about your best treatment options.
Inflammatory triggers can contribute to facial redness in some people. Common triggers include hot weather, hot showers, spicy foods, hot foods and drinks, coffee, and alcohol.
A skin condition known as rosacea can also be associated with facial redness and flushing, which can lead to new red vessels and even pimples.
Dr. Schwartz adds two more possible causes of broken capillaries to the above list:
As we age, there are changes in the collagen of both the skin and the small capillaries, which may cause them to weaken and become more visible.
People that are on their feet all day may be more prone to spider veins on their legs. And people that are exposed to environmental irritants such as smoking and pollution often have more free radical formation, making them more prone to spider veins, especially on the face.
» Do you have any concerns about how your lifestyle or environment may affect your condition? Ask a doctor on our forum for their professional opinion.
Effective treatments for broken capillaries
As you can see by the long list above, there are many possible causes of broken capillaries, which is why it is advised you consult with a qualified professional who can recommend the best treatment suited to your individual situation.
“PDL and KTP lasers are very effective – these laser treatments target vessels and ‘destroy’ them,” says Dr. Shainhouse. Lasers produce intense beams of light that are different colors and wavelengths that vary in their intensity and pulse duration. When undergoing treatment, a handpiece is held near your skin where it transmits the laser frequency.
There is a little discomfort and irritation to be expected from laser, as it can feel like someone is constantly flicking a rubber band into your face. A topical anesthetic is often used to decrease sensitivity and discomfort. And “lasers can leave a purple, bruise-like discoloration,” says Dr. Shainhouse. “Though this does fade within a week or so.”
Intense pulsed light (IPL)
“In my opinion, the most effective treatment for broken capillaries of the face and legs is Sciton’s BBL device. This device delivers intense pulsed light directly into the capillaries and the heat causes the vessels to shrink and fade,” says Dr. Schwartz.
Like laser, a topical anesthetic is often applied prior to treatment to avoid any pain and discomfort. “The procedure itself takes anywhere from 2-3 minutes for the spider veins around the nose to approximately 15 minutes for a cluster of spider veins on the legs,” adds Dr. Schwartz. “Treatments may need to be repeated 2-3 times to get the best aesthetic result.”
Dr. Schwartz informs that sclerotherapy is an option for treating the legs. This treatment, used since the 1930s, entails a salt solution being injected into the affected veins, which subsequently cause them to collapse and stick together, clearing them from the legs.
Dr. Shainhouse informs that two particular topical treatments may be useful.
Mirvaso (brimonidine) is a topical gel that temporarily shrinks the red vessels and makes the skin appear less red. It’s applied directly to the skin and takes approximately 30 minutes to take effect. The treatment can last up to 12 hours, with a peak efficacy at 6-8 hours.
Rhofade (oxymetazoline hydrochloride) is the newest topical agent recently approved by the FDA. It temporarily shrinks the vessels and reduces facial redness. It’s best applied daily and has been demonstrated to last 12 hours.
Chemical peels and retinoids
Dermatologist Dr. Jessie Cheung from Willowbrook, IL suggests that “chemical peels and retinoids will indirectly help with the broken blood vessels by building collagen to strengthen their support structure.”
“Chemical peels stimulate skin regeneration by controlled trauma. Deeper chemical peels will deliver more results, but you will have more downtime. A series of superficial chemical peels, spaced a few weeks apart, will strengthen your skin over time,” adds Dr. Cheung.
Retinoids such as retin-a (tretinoin), a prescription facial cream, has a direct effect on skin cells, keeping them healthy, stimulating collagen production, with the added benefit of reducing wrinkles.
» Not every treatment option may be appropriate for your case. If you’re considering correcting the appearance of spider veins on your body or face, you can use our virtual consultation tool to discuss your best options with a cosmetic doctor near you.
The effects of makeup and facial treatments on broken capillaries
“Overly drying face washes or washes and wipes with harsh ingredients can irritate the skin, damage the epidermis and cause facial redness and swelling that may encourage new vessel growth,” says Dr. Shainhouse. “Grainy, exfoliating face scrubs can damage sensitive face skin, leaving it to heal and create new vessels. Picking and squeezing pimples and pores can break vessels and cause redness, too.”
Dr. Cheung agrees that harsh facial treatments need to be avoided, saying, “I’m not a fan of pore extractions during a facial treatment, or rough physical exfoliation scrubs as it’s common that broken capillaries result from the high pressures, exploding the blood vessels.”
This is a careful reminder that in the face area, it’s important to use gentle treatments that do not cause excessive trauma to the delicate skin. Using makeup on the other hand is perfectly fine. “I have never seen makeup cause spider veins,” says Dr. Schwartz. “In fact, makeup can be used to temporarily conceal them.”
How can you prevent broken capillaries?
“Wear sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun and to limit spider veins on the face,” says Dr. Mardirossian. “Exercise regularly to improve your leg strength, circulation, and vein strength. Focus on exercises that work your legs, such as walking or running. Control your weight to avoid placing too much pressure on your legs. And alternate the pressure on your legs when standing up for a long time.”
Additionally, Dr. Cheung informs that horse chestnut extract has been shown to aid with poor circulation by strengthening blood vessels. Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is a plant extract available as supplements or topical gel.
When it comes to preventing broken capillaries, simple lifestyle advice offers the best protection.
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