Westend61 / getty images
If you've ever looked in a mirror only to see tiny little red lines sprawled across your face, chances are, you've experienced broken blood vessels. While they sound intense, they are quite common and not a cause for serious concern. That said, we chatted with a couple of dermatologists to uncover their cause (so you can avoid them long term!), as well as how to prevent this condition down the road.
What causes broken blood vessels?
"Broken blood vessels, also known as telangiectasias, can be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors," says Dr. Jennifer Chwalek, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology. While they might seem most common in those with fair skin, Dr. Chwalek says that they're actually part of the natural aging process—they're just most visible in paler folks.
As for their cause? Dr. Chwalek says that it ultimately comes down to sun damage, rosacea, pregnancy, and trauma to the skin. "Anything that increases blood flow to the face may cause broken blood vessels," she continues. "That's why people sometimes notice them after vomiting or overexertion. I once got a broken blood vessel after a prolonged backbend in a yoga class!" External factors aside, Dr. Chwalek notes that genetics play a role, too: If you have a family history of broken blood vessels, it's more likely that you'll develop them.
What do they look like?
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Orit Markowitz, the founder of OptiSkin in New York City, says that broken vessels look like little red—or even think purple—branches on the skin. In most cases, they are very fine in width, so if your whole face is red, it's more likely that you are simply flushed. Nevertheless, it helps to know how to identify these nuisances. According to Dr. Chwalek, they most often occur along the creases of the nose and upper cheeks; they can also appear on the upper chest and other areas of the body that can experience increased blood flow.
What's the best way to prevent them?
Like with most skin concerns, sun protection goes a long way in preventing broken blood vessels, says Dr. Chwalek. In addition to applying sunscreen with at least SPF 30 each and every day, it's important to minimize sun exposure and wear protective garments, like hats and UV-blocking apparel, to help mitigate the sun's harmful, broken blood vessel-inducing effects.
Protecting yourself against the sun isn't the only way to avoid broken blood vessels, however. Dr. Chwalek says that avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption can also help. "Broken blood vessels are common in alcoholism," she explains, noting that alcohol also can worsen rosacea, which is another risk factor. Additionally, she says to be gentle with your skin. "Avoid picking," she urges. "Use gentle cleansers and moisturizers. Avoid over scrubbing, exfoliating, or trying to express blackheads or milia (leave this to your dermatologist or aesthetician)." Lastly, using the correct products can make a big difference. "Vitamin C can help to strengthen blood vessel walls, which may help to prevent broken capillaries," she explains.
Can you treat broken blood vessels if you already have them?
In short, yes—laser therapy is your best course of action. "The best, most definitive treatment for broken blood vessels is laser," Dr. Chwalek says. "There are a variety of lasers that can be used successfully—pulsed-dye lasers, KTP lasers, and IPL (intense pulsed light). They usually respond within one to three treatments depending on the size and location."