Few things have the potential to be as shocking as looking at your skin in a lighted magnifying mirror. Suddenly, what you could have sworn was just regular-old skin looks more like a topographical map filled with divots, flaky patches, and teeny red tributaries that you'd need an aesthetician to traverse. On one of these up-close-and personal guided tours of your skin, your aesthetician might point out fields of broken capillaries — spidery, red splotches lying underneath your skin and making the overall landscape look a little rugged.
But what exactly are broken capillaries? And what does it mean if your facialist pointed them out during your last treatment? We asked the experts to guide us.
What are broken capillaries?
"Broken capillaries are dilated or enlarged blood vessels just beneath the surface of the skin," Sejal Shah, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, tells Allure. On the surface, that translates to little red splotches that don't seem to go away — especially around your nose, cheeks, and chin. But if you (or your aesthetician) zoom in super close, you'll notice that the splotch looks like it almost has vein-y little legs. Some might even look like winding red veins.
"Almost anyone can suffer from this problem at one point or another," Michelle DeLuca, a licensed aesthetician in Los Angeles, tells Allure, but people with fair skin are more likely to notice it. "This is very common in people with sensitive skin, rosacea, and acne," she says.
What causes them?
So, what causes these "broken" blood vessels? It's often a one-two punch. First, there’s the genetic hit — i.e. if you have fair skin and rosacea, you’re more susceptible to these little redness bombs. But broken capillaries are actually caused by an external disturbance in your skin — windburns, extreme temperature changes, excessive drinking or smoking — especially UV damage and trauma to the skin, such as popping a pimple too forcefully. Even a sneeze that’s too strong can cause broken capillaries.
How do you prevent them?
Some of these things are pretty difficult to avoid, especially if you have a predisposition, says Shah. But for the things that you can avoid (Picking at your pores! Exposing yourself to UV damage!) it's all about prevention.
"Be gentle when cleansing your face," says Shah. "Wash your face with lukewarm water rather than hot or cold and make sure to protect your face in cold weather. Using sun protection and gentle, soothing ingredients can also be beneficial."
If you already have broken capillaries, sun exposure will only make them worse. “Broken capillaries don’t usually make your skin sensitive to touch but they can make your skin more sensitive to sun as they can enlarge," Lily Talakoub, a board-certified dermatologist in Virginia, tells Allure. "The best prevention is sun protection — a broad-spectrum UVA and UVB sunscreen."
Prevention really is key here since once you have broken capillaries, you can't really repair them per se. "Once you have them, the only way you can eliminate them is with laser treatments that target blood vessels," explains Talakoub.
So, what should you do during your next facial?
If you have broken capillaries — or if you have sensitive skin that might be prone to them — flag it before your next facial. "The aesthetician may avoid steam and applying hot towels," Athena Hewett, a licensed aesthetician and founder of Monastery skin care, tells Allure. "Experienced aestheticians can give extractions to someone without doing any more damage to the capillaries, so it's important to choose your aesthetician carefully."
One treatment you should steer clear of if you're prone to broken capillaries? "I would always avoid microdermabrasion," Hewett says, which can cause more trauma to already sensitive skin.
Meanwhile, the right facial treatment can help reduce the ruddy redness caused by broken capillaries. "Inquire about treatments that focus on reducing redness, soothing, and providing protection from environmental stressors," says DeLuca.
Her go-to? A cooling mask with hydrating and brightening benefits. At home, she suggests G.M. Collin's Rosa Sea Gel-Cream — "a fragrance-free product that soothes, hydrates, and significantly decreases the appearance of redness by improving skin tone evenness."
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