The Skin Coach: How to Treat Broken Capillaries

What causes broken capillaries on the face and how do you treat them?

Facial telangiectasia, or broken capillaries, are thin capillaries that dilate or rupture and become visible on the face, mainly the nose, chin, and cheeks. These thread-like veins sit just beneath the surface of the skin and are responsible for carrying blood to the face. They are also found on other parts of the body including the legs where they are commonly referred to as spider veins for their webbed appearance.

There are a number of different factors that lead to the appearance of broken capillaries.  Genetics often play a role and those with fair skin or thin, sensitive skin are more susceptible. Everyday acts like sneezing, blowing your nose, and wearing glasses can cause the delicate capillaries on the face to rupture. Trauma to the skin caused by picking at pimples, abrasive exfoliating methods like microdermabrasion or scrubbing with a mechanical brush can also cause capillary tearing. And environmental factors like sun exposure and extreme temperature changes can also force the veins to dilate and contract rapidly, eventually leading to them becoming permanently dilated.  

Treatment options for facial telangiectasias include electrocautery, sclerotherapy, IPL (Intense Pulsed Light), and lasers.  Most of these methods work by clotting, burning, or scarring a section the capillary, forcing the blood to flow through other vessels, minimizing the flow of blood enlarging it, or by destroying the capillary and forcing the vessel to be reabsorbed by the body. Unfortunately, these treatments tend to be expensive and usually require multiple sessions without the guarantee of permanent results or even improvements. There are some topical ingredients found in skincare products like Vitamin K that also claim to help reduce the appearance of spider veins by strengthening capillary walls or clotting blood but there is minimal research to prove the efficacy of topical treatments.

The Skin Coach monthly column is written by Kimmy Williams, owner of Acqua e Sapone Acne Treatment Center in San Francisco.