Definition & Overview

Broken capillaries are tiny blood vessels that rupture and thus become visible through the skin as red streaks or blotches. The capillaries are the blood vessels responsible for blood circulation in the face; they are connected to the larger veins and arteries of the body. However, sometimes some of these blood vessels break, usually when their walls suddenly widen and, as a result, become narrower. When they break, they usually appear on the face as tiny spots of blood just beneath the surface of the skin or as a purplish swollen spot on the skin similar to a normal bruise. They can disappear with treatment and proper skin care. Patients who have broken capillaries may consult a dermatologist.

Cause of Condition

Broken capillaries can occur due to a number of possible reasons, including: * Trauma or injury to the skin – Injuries to the skin, such as wounds, aggressive cosmetic treatments, or extreme pressure on the skin surface, may cause blood vessels to rupture. * Genetics – Some people are more prone to broken capillaries than most. The risk of getting them is higher among patients who have parents or grandparents who also had them. * Old age – The thinning of the skin, which is caused by the decrease in collagen and elastin associated with aging, may cause blood vessels to become more easily visible through the skin. * Environmental factors – Sunburn, extreme cold, windburn, or sudden changes in temperature can all cause broken capillaries. * Hormonal changes – People experiencing puberty, pregnancy, and menopause are more prone to broken capillaries as their body attempts to adjust to various changes. * Medical conditions – Ruptured blood vessels can cause red spots on the face and arms due to a medical condition called rosacea, which has been associated with liver damage. * Skin type – People with fair complexions are especially vulnerable to the symptoms of broken capillaries as the color of the blood vessels are more visible due to their lighter skin. * Inflammatory conditions, such as acne * Bacterial conditions, especially those that are linked with rosacea * Blood thinning medications * Negative habits, such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, may make an already predisposed person more prone to this vascular issues

Although harmless and do not cause serious complications, broken capillaries may cause unsightly symptoms that appear on the face.

Key Symptoms

The first signs that the capillaries on a patient’s face may have ruptured include: * Red areas on the face * Erythema or semi-permanent/permanent facial redness * Small red bumps on different parts of the face, but most commonly on the nose, cheeks, chin, and forehead * Fine red lines or streaks on the skin, most visible on light skin * Discolored marks, especially on dark skin * Telangiectasia or small blood vessels on the nose and cheeks * Ocular rosacea, or a burning sensation in the eyes * Blushing more easily or more noticeably * Rhinophyma, or a red nose

Broken capillaries associated with rosacea may also occur in stages. Pre-rosacea refers to a stage wherein the patient simply exhibits an increased tendency to blush more easily. The next stage is vascular rosacea, which occurs when the blood vessels on the nose and cheeks become swollen, causing a condition called telangiectasia. At this stage, the patient’s skin may become overly sensitive. The most advanced stage is inflammatory rosacea, which presents in small, red bumps or pustules that spread across the patient’s face.

Who to See and Types of Treatments Available

Patients who notice symptoms of broken capillaries on their face or other parts of their bodies should seek treatment from a dermatologist. A dermatologist may also oversee the treatment or make a referral to other specialists if the condition is linked with other underlying causes.

There are many available treatments for broken capillaries. These include: * Over the counter topical medications – Topical ointments are the first choice of treatment for broken capillaries. There are several options, such as salicylic-based products or Tretinoin (vitamin A) creams. Tretinoin is known to help build the collagen of the uppermost layer of the skin to keep the broken blood vessels from being too visible. * Laser IPL photorejuvenation – Simply known as IPL (intense pulsed light), this therapy can reduce the appearance of broken blood vessels in just 1 to 3 sessions. However, this treatment is very expensive and may cause moderate pain or discomfort to the patient. Thus, most patients end up requiring local anesthesia prior to the procedure, which then places them at risk of allergic reactions to the anesthetics.
* Electrocautery – This medical procedure can vaporize broken capillaries so they will no longer show through the skin. It is a more affordable alternative to laser IPL photorejuvenation. * Red light/blue light therapy

Those who are prone to broken capillaries or have undergone treatment for the condition are also advised to seek preventative techniques. These include: * Applying sunblock regularly * Avoiding spicy food * Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption * Avoiding oil-based products * Refraining from using hot baths and saunas * Avoiding medications that dilate the blood vessels


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  • Layton A., Thiboutot D. “Emerging therapies in rosacea.” JAAD. 2013 December; 69(6):S57-S65.
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