About a year ago, I noticed a small red dot emerge on my pale, usually clear cheek. I brushed it off as a blemish, applied my go-to essential oil blend spot treatment, and went on with my day. Though, after about a week, I grew frustrated. What is this? I thought as I poked and prodded my skin with my finger. I remembered Renée Rouleau had a product meant to fade discoloration left from cleared-up breakouts, decided that must be what it was, and began using her product. When that didn't work, I was even more irritated. I must scar really easily, I reasoned, and continued to treat it.
It took about a year and some change for me to finally figure out what the red mark really is: a broken capillary. Broken capillaries sprout up for a ton of reasons, but for me, Rouleau told me during our seasonal facial appointment, it was from rigorous microdermabrasion. Other than the fact that such information was devastating to me (microdermabrasion makes my skin so glowy), it made sense. "If you're prone to them, the sucking and pulling during the treatment can easily bring them to the service," Rouleau explained.
So we discussed treatments and landed on laser as my best bet. I made an appointment with a dermatologist and have begun trying to zap it out (it takes time). Below, my dermatologist and Rouleau explain everything you need to know about broken (or dilated) capillaries, including where they come from, what they are, and how best to treat and prevent them.
Why do they happen?
"'Broken' or dilated blood vessels can be found on your face due to several causes," says Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group. "One reason is from trauma. For example, when you try to pop your own pimple, you may break blood vessels in the process from pressing too aggressively. The other two causes are much more common: Chronic and long-term sun damage and radiation can cause little blood vessels to form all around the nose and the cheeks over time, and underlying conditions such as rosacea, which can cause repeated flushing (redness) of the face, can also cause broken or dilated blood vessels to form." Nazarian continues, "Ultimately what you'll notice is that skin around the nose and cheeks starts to get a little bit redder over time, or you might notice the small little lines of blood vessels around the sides of the nose in the middle of the face."
Celebrity esthetician Rouleau adds, "Broken capillaries are caused when you get a bruise from injury to the skin. The little red blood vessels that are found in different areas of the face (most commonly the nose, cheeks, and chin) are permanently dilated capillaries. These are common in lighter, fairer skin types of western European descent (Irish, Scottish). If you have visible capillaries around the corners of the nose (little red squiggle marks) and nowhere else, these may not be the same—these can be caused simply from blowing your nose from colds and allergies that put pressure on the capillaries."
How can they be prevented?
"Never press or squeeze pimples, to avoid breaking vessels," recommends Nazarian. "Always use a high broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30. And if you feel like your skin is always flushing, turning red, or you think you might have rosacea, speak to your dermatologist about starting medication, as it can lead to long-term blood vessel formation. Typically, if you drink an ice-cold drink, your face and neck vessels stay constricted and prevent dilation and redness. So, for example, if you know you get flushed, hot, and red every time you work out at the gym, keep a cold drink with you and take sips throughout your workout—this prevents repeated breaking of blood vessels over time.
"Refrigerate your products," Rouleau suggests. Toners, serums, and moisturizers can be kept in the fridge. Not only does this help preserve the products, but also, their cool temperatures can soothe redness on the skin. Use products containing anti-inflammatory and calming ingredients, such as Redness Care Firming Serum ($45), which uses sea whip and water lily to help naturally cool and comfort the skin. It's really important to use products exclusively formulated for keeping the skin calm. Wash your face with cool or tepid water, as hot water on the face will speed up blood flow, which will only increase redness in the skin.
Rouleau continues, "Remember to moisturize and avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. When your skin becomes dry, it becomes irritated. By simply keeping moisture in the skin, you can keep the skin's moisture barrier strong to prevent the skin getting easily sensitized and irritated."
Finally, Rouleau explains the importance of vitamin C if you're worried about broken or dilated blood vessels. "A vitamin C serum is great for strengthening capillaries and soothing redness as long as you use a formula that is stable and doesn't sting or irritate the skin. My favorite type of topical vitamin C is magnesium ascorbyl phosphate found in Vitamin C & E Treatment ($66), which not only helps reduce redness and keep capillaries strong, but also builds collagen, fades brown spots, and evens out discoloration. (Another great option is SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($165.) Then, take 1000 milligrams of vitamin C with bioflavonoids daily. This may help prevent the capillary walls from being so fragile as well as prevent bruising."
What are the treatment options?
"Laser treatments are the best and most efficient way to get rid of little blood vessels on the face," says Nazarian. "Intense pulsed light, or IPL, can also decrease redness over time—both procedures are available at your dermatologist's office. I typically recommend a vitamin K serum to use twice daily under sunscreen to help minimize the redness. There is some evidence to support that it decreases blood vessel formation."
However, Rouleau says, "Generally, once you have them, they don't go away. You need to seek professional treatment, as skincare products cannot make these vanish completely. There are laser procedures that can be very beneficial, as well as the older tried-and-true technology of using an electric needle to cauterize surface capillaries. Either way, consult with a skincare professional to determine which option is best for you, based on the severity of the condition."