Spider veins are capillaries (the smallest blood vessels in the body) that have become weakened, enlarged, and visible through the skin.
They appear on the face and legs and look like a red or blue spider web or tree branch. Although their unsightliness can be a nuisance, they’re not medically harmful. Nor are they the same as varicose veins, which are larger and often cause pain.
What Causes Spider Veins?
Sun exposure is a leading cause of facial spider veins. Individuals with the skin condition rosacea are also at risk of developing these tiny visible veins on their nose and cheeks. Spider veins that form on the legs can be caused by an injury, such as a broken ankle, or by prolonged sitting and standing (but not by crossing your legs). Pregnant women can also develop spider veins on their legs, but these tend to disappear after the pregnancy is over.
Hormones and genetics are believed to play a role. Research suggests that some people are simply more susceptible than others to developing this skin imperfection. Spider veins are much more common in women than in men (as many as 75 percent of adult women may have spider veins, according to some estimates), but men are not immune to them.
How Are Spider Veins Treated?
There are two major treatments for spider veins: laser therapy and microsclerotherapy. Sometimes the two treatments are combined.
- Laser therapy. This non-invasive treatment targets the spider veins with laser energy. The laser focuses its beam of energy onto the pigment in the blood without harming the surrounding skin tissue. The heat from the energy causes the tiny veins to coagulate and collapse. The closed-off veins then eventually fade away, usually within 2 to 4 weeks. Side effects include some redness, swelling, and itching at the treatment site. In rare cases, the skin blisters, which may result in scars. Multiple treatments (typically 3) are often needed for best results.
- Microsclerotherapy. For this treatment, the physician injects a liquid solution into the spider veins to cause them to collapse. As with laser therapy, the closed-off veins then gradually fade away. Side effects include swelling, redness, and bruising. Most people need more than one treatment, but the exact number depends on the number of veins being removed.
Results for both laser therapy and microsclerotherapy are permanent, although new spider veins may appear on nearby skin, requiring additional treatments.