What are Broken Capillaries?
Capillaries connect arteries and veins, and help transport nutrients such as water and oxygen between the blood and tissue. They normally expand and contract in size all the time, similar to a rubber band being stretched. However, at times they can get dilated too much to the point that they are no longer able to return to their original smaller sizes. The capillaries stay overdilated and remain visible as a result. This condition is known as telangiectasias, or broken capillaries. They are commonly found in the face, and also the legs (known as leg veins).
These broken blood vessels are not actually abnormal in the sense that they don’t work. They still perform their normal functions of transporting nutrients with no issues. The blood vessels are simply unable to shrink down to a smaller size due to being overstretched, and do not repair themselves. This condition is not painful and is usually a cosmetic concern only, but it does make the skin look red, aged, and splotchy. A high amount of broken capillaries in the same area are frequently referred to as spider veins.
What Causes Them?
Because blood vessels expand and contract all the time, there are numerous causes that may lead to the development of broken capillaries. The concept is simple though – something excessive causes the blood vessels to get dilated too much.
Some examples are below. Because there are numerous reasons why capillaries can become overdilated, this should not be considered a complete list. A few of the common causes include:
The additional heat from the sun enlarges blood vessels. Sunburns can cause the top layer of skin to peel, which then makes capillaries more noticeable. Sun damage can also lead to skin cancer.
Light to moderate alcohol consumption causes the skin to flush due to the enlargement of vessels. Heavy drinking increases the risk of overdilation. Drinking too much too frequently can lead to spider veins. Red wine especially can also lead to inflammation.
Bruising can lead to broken capillaries and spider veins in both, the face and legs. Even simple actions such as popping a pimple has the potential of leaving a sore spot, scarring, or a broken capillary. Certain home treatments such as DIY facial steaming are not skin friendly, and some facial scrubs can cause excessive physical trauma – especially scrubs with large grains. Treatments such as these should always be performed by a professional aesthetician, and are not advised to do on your own.
Dry and dehydrated skin
Dry skin causes the skin to become thinner and contain less tissue. This can cause capillaries and other conditions such as fine lines and wrinkles to become more visible.
Broken capillaries are very common in inflammatory conditions such as rosacea. Often, an underlying inflammatory condition such as rosacea can lead to having many telangiectasias on the face as a result of excess flushing. Similarly, autoimmune disease can also cause broken capillaries or spider angiomas.
Broken capillaries are very common during the winter. Because the body needs to use more energy to regulate temperature and preserve heat, the cold weather constricts blood vessels. Going inside someplace warm after being outside causes capillaries to rapidly dilate, and places them under a large change in pressure. Water based moisturizers can also freeze on the face in cold weather.
Certain everyday lifestyle factors can also lead to the development of broken capillaries. Some of these can be unavoidable depending on the circumstances, and others may just be a natural habit that is a part of an everyday routine. Examples of lifestyle factors that can cause overdilation are:
- Exposing your face to water that is too hot (eg: face steaming). When washing your face, use gentle warm water instead
- Rubbing eyes while crying
- Being exposed to smoking and pollution
- Being in very windy areas or places with extreme changes in weather
- Heavy consumption of acidic foods (sugar, alcohol, caffeine, processed foods, meat, dairy, refined starches)
- Blowing your nose with too much force too frequently. This puts pressure on the face
- Wearing glasses that press on certain areas of the face
- Vomiting, coughing, and sneezing. Sudden and extreme pressure from a violent sneeze or cough can break blood vessels
- Drying face too hard with towel
- Being on your feet all day – this is a very common cause of spider veins and varicose veins in the legs
- Smoking – this weakens the blood vessels and greatly increases the chances of overdilation
Candidates with Higher Risk
Some people are more predisposed to the development of broken capillaries due to genetics and other uncontrollable variables. Generally speaking, the candidates have a higher risk if they possess one of more of the following traits:
- Having sensitive skin or acne
- Genetics or a family history of having broken blood vessels/spider veins
- Fair and pale skin
- Pregnancy – this causes an increase in estrogen. These usually heal on their own after pregnancy
- Patients with rosacea. Due to excessive redness and flushing, broken blood vessels are very common
- Increased blood pressure
- Living in an area with hot weather
- Certain diseases, especially ones affecting the liver. The liver normally helps break down estrogen and progesterone. When these hormones, rise they cause dilation in capillaries
Broken capillaries appear as a cluster of red lines near the skin’s surface. These are not painful, and are mainly an aesthetic concern. They are most often found in the face, especially in the undereye and nose regions. Spider veins are simply multiple broken capillaries in the same area. These are much more common on the legs, but can also appear on the face depending on the causes.
Broken blood vessels vary in size, and can manifest as a few small dots to lines spreading across the area. They can easily be noticed at home while looking in the mirror. As collagen decreases with aging, these can also become more visible along with other conditions such as wrinkles and age spots.
Sometimes, broken capillaries can be mistaken for acne scars instead.
This condition is generally permanent, and requires treatment in order to make it go away. It is possible for lightly damaged capillaries to heal themselves within 3-6 months time; however, anything that remains longer than that will most likely remain forever.
How Can Dr. Behroozan Treat Them?
It is very difficult to reduce the appearance of broken capillaries/spider veins on your own. There are many DIY and “natural” remedies available for personal use that might reduce the size, but the blood vessels will still remain noticeable.
Dr. Behroozan has multiple treatment options available for broken capillaries and spider veins at his two practice locations in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. He will be able to determine whether or not these broken capillaries are a sign of any other important systemic concerns or disease. Due to the plethora of causes for broken capillaries, not every treatment option may be applicable to your case. Dr. Behroozan and the team at the Dermatology Institute of Southern California will be able to help you develop a customized treatment plan that is unique to you in order to treat damaged capillaries, as well as reduce your risk for developing new ones.