What are broken capillaries?
Broken capillaries or spider veins, officially called telangiectasia, are tiny thread-like veins that we see on the surface of the skin. “When the walls of these blood vessels widen and narrow suddenly, they may become permanently damaged—and dilated, making them more visible,” says Mark H. Schwartz, MD, FACS, a New York City plastic surgeon and clinical assistant professor of plastic surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College. When the vessels don’t heal properly, they can end up looking like tiny blood spots or a network of fine tree branches.
What causes them?
Capillaries burst for a variety of reasons—most commonly, genetics, sun damage, rosacea, trauma to the skin, and aging. “That long list just proves that we don’t really know why they happen in any one case,” Dr. Schwartz says. If your parents have a ruddy complexion (caused by more vessels closer to the skin), it’s probable that you will too. Years of sun exposure along with that can cause capillary damage: “As more ultraviolet rays pound the dermis, elastin fiber weakens and blood vessels migrate closer to the skin, becoming more superficial, which in turn makes them more visible,” explains Bobby Buka, MD, a dermatologist and assistant professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. People with rosacea, a condition that causes skin to appear reddish and flushed, are more likely to experience spider veins, according to Dr. Schwartz. The body reads rosacea as damage and triggers inflammation to try to heal it, but inflammation itself becomes problematic. And as we age, our skin is less able to bounce back from these minor sources of damage. “Older individuals are more likely to have broken blood vessels since the skin is thinner and weaker, and the collagen is not replaced as rapidly as in younger skin,” notes Dr. Schwartz. Learn more about the skin care tips dermatologists follow.