Why You Get Broken Capillaries On Your Face & How To Prevent Them

Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor By Stephanie Eckelkamp
Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition.

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I vividly remember when I got that first broken capillary on my face. I was overanalyzing a few clogged pores and pimples in the bathroom mirror (as one does after cleansing) when I thought, Why don't I just pop a few? So I did. Afterward, there was some redness, but I thought nothing of it. The next day it was still there, and the next, and the next. Fast-forward a decade and the red spot remains—a vivid souvenir of my poor college skin care habits.

In a desperate effort to prevent any more and (fingers crossed) maybe even help minimize or eliminate the ones I already have, I recently reached out to a few dermatologists for their expertise on all things broken capillaries. Here's what they had to say:

So, what causes broken capillaries?

Under the skin on our face, there are loads of delicate blood vessels responsible for circulation. When they widen and narrow suddenly or become damaged for some other reason, they can become permanently dilated, which is what causes the visible red marks we call broken capillaries (turns out, they're not technically broken). They often appear on the nose, cheeks, and chin, with some broken capillaries looking like small red dots and others branching out like spider veins.

Technically called telangiectasias, broken capillaries on your face can crop up for so many different reasons, says dermatologist Amy Wechsler, M.D.—which can make them hard to avoid. Ultraviolet rays from sun exposure can weaken and damage blood vessels and make them visible through the top layer of the skin, as can any kind of trauma, whether that's from getting hit in the face, windburn, or popping a pimple (like me!). 

Even a hot steamy shower, facial steam, or washing your face with hot water could be a risk factor. "This heat brings more blood to the surface of the skin, dilating blood vessels and contributing to the appearance of broken capillaries," says Dr. Wechsler. Excessive alcohol consumption, which also dilates blood vessels, can contribute to the problem as well.

Even blowing your nose, towel drying your face too vigorously, aggressively exfoliating, or rubbing your eyes when you're crying counts as trauma and may cause broken capillaries, adds dermatologist Lisa Airan, M.D.

And, unfortunately, you might just have a genetic predisposition, says Dr. Wechsler. Take a look at your mom and dad. If they have broken capillaries, chances are you will too—which makes preventive measures extra important. If you have fair skin, you're also at greater risk.

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Can you prevent broken capillaries?

Sort of. If genetics play a role, you may not be able to avoid them completely, but anyone can at least minimize their risk of experiencing a broken capillary. This can be achieved by taking steps to avoid or counter the risk factors above. In addition to being gentler with your face (no pimple popping, no excessive rubbing), here are a few more ways you can avoid broken capillaries:

  • Wear a good sunscreen. This advice will literally never get old, and it's extra important if you're prone to broken capillaries since the sun's rays can cause broken capillaries and enlarge existing ones. Dr. Wechsler recommends a broad spectrum facial sunscreen with an SPF of 30 to 50.
  • Wash your face with lukewarm water. This will prevent the rapid expansion of blood vessels that can occur with hot, steamy water that often leads to broken capillaries. Take care to keep your face out of that steamy stream of water when you shower, too.
  • Pop a vitamin C supplement. According to celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau, vitamin C can reduce inflammation, combat free radical damage, and—when in the presence of flavonoid compounds—strengthen blood vessels, making you less likely to experience broken capillaries. Rouleau recommends taking 1,000 mg of vitamin C with bioflavonoids twice a day.
  • Ditch the super-gritty exfoliants. Rough physical exfoliants may be too much for your face. If you're prone to broken capillaries, consider a gentle enzyme-based exfoliant to dissolve dead skin cells and dirt.
  • Slather on a facial balm. If you're in an environment with extreme temperatures and high winds, consider applying a salve-like facial balm under your makeup for an added layer of protection from the elements.

Are there any natural treatment options?

Not really. "Once you have a structural blood vessel there, the only way to really remove it is with a laser," says Dr. Wechsler. "There's nothing that an individual can really do other than keeping the skin relatively cool. If the face is too hot, then more blood gets drawn to the surface, which can cause the blood vessel to expand and become more noticeable."

In some cases, however, a broken capillary may heal on its own within three to six months, says Dr. Wechsler. If it hasn't healed by that point, though, it's likely there to stay.

Depending on how many broken capillaries you want removed and their size, the cost of laser treatment can range from around $150 to $500. Your best bet if you're not willing to shell out the cash for laser treatments? Follow the preventive strategies above, dab on your favorite concealer, and don't sweat it too much—broken capillaries are harmless, after all, and chances are nobody even notices them but you.

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