Broken blood vessels, also known as spider veins or telangiectasias, are a common harmless skin condition. They occur when blood vessels get dilated (enlarged) under the skin's surface on the face. Broken blood vessels are a cosmetic problem but can be associated with other medical conditions.
What causes broken blood vessels?
Broken blood vessels can occur at any age on any part of the face, but they have a predilection for the cheeks, nose, and chin. They can affect any gender or skin type. However, there are certain risk factors.
- Genetics: Broken blood vessels usually run in families and increase with age.
- Pregnancy: During pregnancy, there is an increase in estrogen, which predisposes women to get broken blood vessels. Many times they resolve after pregnancy.
- Sun exposure: Chronic ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can damage collagen leading to thinning of the skin and ease of visibility of blood vessels. UV radiation also weakens blood vessels causing them to dilate.
- Harsh weather conditions: Extreme cold or heat can cause blood vessels to dilate.
- Environmental irritants: Irritants, such as chemicals, in the environment can cause blood vessels to dilate.
- Trauma: Any injury or facial trauma, such as picking at a pimple, can cause blood vessels to dilate.
- Vomiting, sneezing, or coughing: They cause an increase in pressure inside the body leading to the enlargement of blood vessels.
- Alcohol: Alcohol causes dilation of blood vessels.
- Smoking: Smoking, like UV radiation, damages collagen causing blood vessels to dilate. It also thins the skin, making it easier to see the blood vessels.
- Rosacea: Rosacea is a skin condition characterized by flushing, redness, broken blood vessels, and pimples.
- Medical conditions: Broken blood vessels can be associated with several rare medical conditions, including Ataxia-telangiectasia syndrome, Bloom syndrome, Sturge-Weber syndrome, Xeroderma pigmentosum, Cutis marmorata telangiectatica congenita, Osler-Weber-Rendu syndrome, Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, Port-wine stain, lupus, and CREST syndrome.
How are broken blood vessels diagnosed?
Your doctor diagnoses broken blood vessels visually. A biopsy or additional testing is not required unless other medical conditions are suspected. If you develop broken blood vessels, see your doctor so he can check for other causes.
Can broken blood vessels be prevented?
Broken blood vessels are preventable in certain situations but not all. If you are genetically disposed to developing them, there is nothing you can do to prevent them. Here are some ways to prevent them:
- Sunscreen and sun protection.
- Drink less or abstain from alcohol.
- Do not smoke.
- Avoid trauma to your face. Do not pick, rub, or scrub your skin.
- Protect your face from harsh climates. Avoid extreme cold and heat. For example, if you are skiing in a cold, windy climate, use a good thick moisturizer to protect your skin.
- Treat your rosacea. Your doctor can prescribe you creams or pills that can help keep your rosacea under control. Your doctor can also recommend products to calm and soothe your skin, such as aloe vera.
- Avoid vasodilators, which can dilate your blood vessels, such as caffeine and spicy foods.
How are broken blood vessels treated?
There are several treatment options for broken blood vessels. While they treat existing broken blood vessels, they will not prevent more from forming.
- Laser, LED, and intense pulsed light (IPL) treatments: These treatments use wavelengths of light that specifically target the hemoglobin in the blood vessels. This specificity prevents damage to the surrounding skin. These treatments damage the blood vessels, so they close up. Your body will reabsorb them over the next few weeks.
- Sclerotherapy: Sclerotherapy involves injecting a solution into the vessels to injure them. The injured vessels close up, and your body reabsorbs them over the next few weeks.
- Retinoids: Retinoids increase the production of collagen, which can strengthen blood vessels.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps protect the skin from UV radiation. It is also necessary for collagen production, which will help strengthen blood vessels.
Broken blood vessels are benign skin conditions that can be treated by your doctor if they become a nuisance. In most cases, they are unlikely to resolve without treatment. If you develop broken blood vessels, you should see your doctor to ensure you do not have any associated medical problems.
Broken blood vessels are a harmless skin condition.
They can be caused by genetics, rosacea, excess alcohol consumption, smoking, sun damage, pregnancy, and trauma.
Rare cases can be found associated with other medical conditions.
They can be treated with laser or light treatments, sclerotherapy, or topical creams.
If you develop broken blood vessels, see your doctor to make sure you do not have any other underlying medical problems.
American Academy of Dermatology. Rosacea.
Bolognia, J., Jorizzo, J.L., Schaffer, J.V. (2012). Dermatology. Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders.
Goldman, M.P., et al. (1993). Treatment of facial telangiectasia with sclerotherapy, laser surgery, and/or electrodesiccation: a review. The Journal of dermatologic surgery and oncology.
Ross, E., Victor, et al. (2005). Intense pulsed light and laser treatment of facial telangiectasias and dyspigmentation: some theoretical and practical comparisons. Dermatologic surgery: official publication for American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.