“Photoaging”. When most people hear the word, they think of sunspots and wrinkles. The same ultraviolet (UV) damage behind these conditions also causes telangiectasia, or “spider veins”. This is when tiny blood vessels on the surface of the skin become visible and appear a reddish-purple color.
These vessels are called capillaries, which are the smallest and most fragile vessels in the vascular system. They branch off of larger vessels that promote circulation throughout the body. Consistent sun exposure and UV damage leads to capillary inflammation, weakness, and dilation, resulting in the appearance of spider veins.
How Does the Sun Impact the Vascular System?
While signs of aging aren’t inherently bad, when the underlying cause is UV damage, it's vital to protect the body from the mutating damage of UV light.
Sun overexposure occurs over years and decades, which is why consistent protection is essential. Even in winter months and overcast weather, we are constantly exposed to UV light unless protected with sunscreen or UPF clothing.
Most capillary breakage appears on the face, or areas of the body where the skin is thinner and has a high level of exposure to the sun.
These conditions are sometimes referred to as:
- Broken blood vessels
- Broken capillaries
- Spider veins
- Thread veins
- Sunburst veins Who Is at Risk for Vascular Damage? Telangiectasias and vessel damage may be related to several factors. Knowing your risk factors is helpful when creating a sun protection plan and speaking to a provider about diagnosis or treatment. High-risk groups include:
- Those with a high level of sun exposure
- Genetics and family history of photoaging conditions
- Aging populations
- Those with autoimmune diseases
Is This Damage Reversible?
While there are treatments to reduce the appearance of broken capillaries, there is no way to reverse previous UV exposure, so sun protection should always be the first line of defense.
Treatments for telangiectasias should always be done under the supervision of a medical provider, due to the sensitive nature of the vascular system. Treatments that are done under medical supervision range in price from a small copay to thousands of dollars.
- Topical creams. Some providers may recommend a topical form of retinol or vitamin C. However, these do increase photosensitivity and may cause irritation. This is why even topical treatments should be done under medication supervision. When possible, they should be applied at night, or if applied during the day, they should be followed by sunscreen.
- Laser therapy. Many board-certified dermatologists recommend laser treatment as a less invasive and effective treatment for telangiectasias. There are many specific types of laser treatments that may be used.
Protect Your Skin This Season
As we embrace the process of natural aging, let’s keep the body safe from photoaging. Remember to stay attentive to sun exposure this fall and winter season. Especially when participating in winter sports and snow activities, the sun's reflection is enough to cause UV damage over time. Applying sunscreen often and using UPF protective clothing is essential to protecting the skin from repeated UV exposure.