Broken Capillaries: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

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Taking a magnifying mirror to the face is never a fully positive experience—especially when you sit under the fluorescent bathroom lights in hopes of a satisfying extraction, and instead come across clusters of tiny red veins dotting your cheeks or nose. These unnerving little splotches, also known as broken capillaries, are common. And, luckily, they’re treatable.

We spoke to top dermatologists to get the 4-1-1 on what causes broken capillaries, how to treat them, and how to prevent them in the first place.

Meet Our Experts: Nicole Hayre, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Cosmetic Dermatology Center in McLean, Virginia, Mary Stevenson, MD, board-certified dermatologist at NYU Langone

 

What are broken capillaries, exactly?

Before getting into broken capillaries, we have to first understand what capillaries are in the first place. Simply put, capillaries are the smallest type of blood vessels in our bodies, according to the Cleveland Clinic. They deliver blood, nutrients, and oxygen to our cells.

Now, onto what you’re really wondering about. “Broken capillaries are tiny blood vessels that are not truly broken but are dilated, making them more noticeable,” says Nicole Hayre, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Cosmetic Dermatology Center in McLean, Virginia. “They typically look like little red (or sometimes purple) irregular lines, causing the skin to have a reddish discoloration or to look blotchy.”

Broken capillaries are most commonly found around the nose or on the cheeks, but they also frequently occur on the chest, Dr. Hayre says.

Another common area for blood vessels to enlarge is the legs and ankles, but those are usually referred to as spider veins, she says. While broken capillaries tend to be smaller, red and found on the face or chest, spider veins can be red, purple or bluish, and typically appear on the legs.

What causes broken capillaries?

As with most things, genetics play a big role in whether or not you develop broken capillaries. People, especially folks with rosacea or fair skin, can have a genetic tendency to develop broken capillaries.

“Rosacea is a condition that causes the blood vessels to react strongly to things like sun, alcohol, spicy food, caffeine, and exercise,” Dr. Hayre tells us. “When people with rosacea react to these things, or are embarrassed, they tend to flush or blush.”

Over time, this repeated stretching out of your blood vessels causes damage, and the blood vessel walls don’t spring back into shape the way they used to. “This leaves them larger and more visible,” she adds.

However, there are a few preventable causes of broken capillaries to know about. Picking at your skin or going for aggressive microdermabrasion treatments can also damage your blood vessels and cause broken capillaries. “Sun damage and natural aging can damage some of the supporting tissues around the vessels, and even some of the superficial vessels themselves, leading to broken capillaries and a ruddy complexion,” Dr. Hayre says.

Let’s zoom into UV damage and broken capillaries for a second: Sun damage thins the skin and decreases collagen and elastin, two proteins found in the skin, says Mary Stevenson, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at NYU Langone. She adds, “Sun damage also thins the walls of the vessels, which can cause them to dilate, [and] results in more visible capillaries as the dermis (the second layer of the skin) is thinner and the capillaries are more visible or can break, leaving redness in the skin.”

What’s more, exposing your skin to extreme heat or cold can lead to similar damage, according to Dr. Hayre. So you’ll also want to avoid taking scorching-hot showers or not protecting your face in very cold environments.

How to treat broken capillaries

OK, so you have a few broken capillaries on your face or chest—now what?

Generally speaking, the best procedures for reducing broken capillaries are vascular lasers and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) treatments, according to both Dr. Hayre and Dr. Stevenson.

Laser treatments work by targeting and destroying the hemoglobin (which is found in your blood cells) to reduce redness and broken blood vessels, says Dr. Stevenson. IPL treatments are very similar to laser treatments in the way that they help shrink the blood vessels and make them less visible.

But note that multiple treatments may be needed, which means that these procedures can be costly, and your red blood vessels can reappear over time.

If you’re not ready to shell out for laser or IPL treatments, you can look to certain skincare ingredients that may help with the redness. “Niacinamide (vitamin B3) is an effective ingredient to help reduce redness and blotchiness,” says Dr. Hayre. She recommends using Cutocin Social Exchange Balancing Cream (Cutocin.com) or Social Exchange Balancing Serum (Cutocin.com), which both contain niacinamide.

How can you prevent broken capillaries in the first place?

The best way to minimize your risk of developing broken capillaries is to treat your skin well. Here’s what that means, according to Dr. Hayre and Dr. Stevenson:

  • Wear sunblock with broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection daily
  • Try to minimize exposure to extreme hot or cold temperatures
  • Do not pick at your skin
  • If you’re having a facial or cosmetic procedure done, make sure to go to a specialist

If you are prone to broken capillaries, always use gentle skincare products, Dr. Hayre recommends. “In addition, do not use very hot or very cold water when washing your face, and never pick at your skin,” she says.

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Freelance Writer

April Benshosan is a New York City-based writer and editor. She graduated with a Master’s degree in Publishing from Pace University, and her byline appears on LIVESTRONG.com, Eat This, Not That!, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo!, OK! Magazine, and Travel Squire. In her free time, you can catch April lifting weights, spending time with her pup, or planning her next vacation.



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