Growing up, my mother instilled nothing but confidence in her three children, and she lead by example. She never complained about her hair not falling the right way, her lipstick getting smudged, or her nail polish chipping — everything was always perfect the way it was. The only thing I ever heard her mention a disdain for were the varicose veins that crept up her legs like thin spiderwebs.
Varicose veins are dilated purple vessels that can be seen and usually felt on the top of the skin, explains Anar Mikailov, M.D., a Massachusetts-based dermatologist and co-founder of Skintensive. He explains that they're typically located on the lower legs (they're affected by gravity) and that they often stick out of the skin. "They're simply weak vesseled veins that expand like a balloon when blood flow up the legs is not proficient," further explains Ellen Marmur, M.D., a Manhattan-based dermatologist and founder of MMSkincare.
According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, more than 40% of women have some form of varicose veins, which is slightly more than the percentage of men. Statistically, it's incredibly common, but as with cellulite, which affects up to 90% of women, it can still cause some degree of insecurity, as it did with my ever-confident mother.
If you fall under that category, know that there are several ways to minimize the appearance of varicose veins. Here, three experts share the treatments that can get rid of them and temporarily mask them. But before we get into treatments, let's look at the root causes of varicose veins.
What Causes Varicose Veins?
Genetics play a part, but factors such as age and previous injuries can also lead to spider veins. Claudia Rios, a board-certified internist at Vein Specialist Centers, says that gender, medications, and fluctuations in weight are all factors. "Standing or sitting for long periods could also play a role," she adds. On top of that, the ASDS also attributes varicose veins to pregnancy and sun damage.
Are Varicose Veins A Sign Of Health Issues?
Dr. Rios says that varicose veins are signs of vein disease that presents itself in stages. "The first visible sign of venous insufficiency could be a spider vein, maybe on your ankles, without any discomfort other than the appearance," she explains. However, with further progressions, she says that patients can develop varicose veins (which are larger) with an increased awareness of leg heaviness or pain.
For many, she says the biggest concern with varicose vein is their appearance. "But the longer you have them, they can present with worsening symptoms like an achy or heavy feeling in the legs; burning, throbbing, muscle cramping, and swelling in the lower legs; worsening pain after sitting or standing for a long time; itching around one or more of the veins; and changes in skin color around a varicose vein," says Dr. Rios.
It's essential to get evaluated by a vein specialist to prevent progression of more severe disease. Dr. Rios says to make sure your doctor is certified in a vascular specialty like Vascular Surgery, Cardiology or the American Board of Venous and Lymphatic Medicine (ABVLM).
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What's the Best Way to Treat Varicose Veins?
Depending on the severity of the varicose veins and how much you want to spend, there are several ways to treat them.
Injecting spider veins with glycerin or Asclera is another option. Dr. Marmur says that the injections are pain-free. (She's had them done and says the process was "amazingly tolerable.") Dr. Mikailov explains that sclerotherapy — which is the formal name of the treatment — causes the vein to collapse, which sounds scary, but it just means that the size of the vein will shrink and therefore sink back into the skin and, therefore, will get rid of the vein's bulginess.
2. Laser Treatment
Laser treatment is another option. This non-surgical procedure works by heating the veins, which kills the walls of the veins and, in turn, the body absorbs the dead tissue to reduce inflammation. Dr. Marmur explains that the lasers are inserted into the vein and then seal it shut. "This is a procedure done with tumescent lidocaine and may need a few sessions," she says. "External lasers for vascular lesions are also used but sub-par to injections."
Dr. Marmur says that both lasers and injections typically go for about $350 per session, and that people should plan to have three to six sessions done depending on the veins being treated. Dr. Mikailov says to expect to pay anywhere between $300 and $500.
In more severe cases, surgery is an option. Dr. Mikailov says that options such as vein ligation and stripping physically remove the veins through incisions, but urges people to consult with an expert in varicose vein management to get a comprehensive evaluation of the status and cause of their situation before moving forward with surgery. In terms of pricing, Dr. Marmur says that if someone qualifies for it, insurance can cover it, and Dr. Mikailov says to expect the price tag to be somewhere between $1,500 and $3,000.
4. Wear Compression Socks
Now, while this isn't a cure, wearing compressions socks can reduce discomfort and prevent varicose veins from worsening. "[This will] help with the return of blood flow back to the heart from the legs," explains Dr. Mikailov.
Are There Any Side Effects That Come From Varicose Vein Treatments?
As with any type of in-office treatment or surgery, there are a few side effects. For the less invasive ones, Dr. Marmur says to expect each area to be redder, minimally swollen, and bruised for up to four weeks, and adds that small scabs or clots can occur as well. "If there is a dark clotted area, let your doctor know and ask if you should come in to release the trapped blood," she notes.
For surgical treatments, John Hopkins University adds that potential risks include blood clots, inflammation, nerve damage, bruising, and changes in skin color over the treated vein.
How to Disguise Varicose Veins With Makeup
In lieu of treatments, a little makeup can go a long way if you want to disguise varicose veins. Celebrity makeup artist Kelly Dawn says to look for a pigmented formula that is super long-wearing but doesn't look heavy or draw more attention to unwanted areas. Her product of choice is the ALLEVEN Colour Shield as it "gives a flawless long-lasting coverage and beautiful glow for both face and body" and can "cover everything from acne, scarring, tattoos, and varicose veins to give you perfectly airbrushed limbs."
For the best results, she says to spray it onto the desired areas from about eight inches away. "Avoid putting too much product on one area, as this can affect its lasting power and natural cover," she warns. "The 3D pigments are very opaque so they will color correct and cover over any blueish tones caused by varicose veins." Easy! And as if it couldn't get better, she assures that the formula is also sweat- and transfer-proof.