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At a Glance: Broken Capillaries


Prevention may be the best medicine when it comes to avoiding broken capillaries on your face.
Prevention may be the best medicine when it comes to avoiding broken capillaries on your face.
Hemera/Thinkstock

Slightly below the surface of your skin lies a tiny network of blood vessels that help distribute fuel through the blood and remove waste from your body.

These vessels look like veins, but the branched structures are much smaller. They're called capillaries.

You've undoubtedly seen broken capillaries, whether you knew what they were or not. They commonly appear on a person's face or legs and look like miniaturized versions of bright red veins, splitting in various directions.

Broken capillaries may even look like bruises, but they're different in a couple of ways: These broken blood vessels don't heal or fade with time.

Capillaries are extremely delicate. It's easy to injure them, leading to rapid expansion. When they dilate too much, they break, causing the reddish appearance on the skin. The injury is irreversible. The vessels don't return to previous size and they don't fix themselves.

Several things can cause -- or make you more prone to develop -- broken capillaries:

  • Injury: Any type of skin trauma can lead capillaries to break. Since they're so delicate, even vigorous face-washing with too hot water can cause damage the web-like vessels. Prolonged sun exposure can also damage capillaries beyond repair.
  • Heredity: You can't avoid this one. Some families are simply more apt to develop the problem. If your parents batted telangiectasia rosacea -- its scientific name -- there's a greater likelihood you will, too.
  • Age: It's easier to see what's below the surface with age. That's because your skin is thinner the older you get. The more transparent the skin, the more apparent broken capillaries become.
  • Alcoholism: High blood pressure is a byproduct of alcoholism. When capillaries are regularly dilated, they eventually maintain an excessively open state, leading to reddish blood vessels that are especially prominent on the face.

Treatments are available for people with broken capillaries. A dermatologist may prescribe laser therapy or cosmetic surgery. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee the condition won't return.

Prevention is also key. If you plan to spend long periods of time in the sun, apply sunscreen -- especially around the mouth and nose. Avoid the overconsumption of alcohol and wash your face gingerly, ensuring that the water isn't too hot.

Telangiectasia rosacea (or broken capillaries) is a common condition, but it can be minimized with proper skin care. Your dermatologist may also be able to reduce or eliminate its appearance.


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