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Broken Capillaries

Unwanted skin redness is a very common concern, especially in people with fair skin, and one of the commonest causes of facial redness is Broken Capillaries.

What are Broken Capillaries?

Broken Capillaries are fine red blood vessels that appear as red lines on the surface of the skin. The capillary blood vessels are not broken but rather small segments of the blood vessel are visible on the skins surface as the blood vessels loop upwards to the skins surface then back down into deeper skin layers. The medical term for these fine red blood vessels is Telangiectasia.

What causes Broken Capillaries?

There is often a family history and it is more common in fair skinned individuals especially of Celtic background. Anything that inflames the skin will cause more of these capillaries to occur over time notably sun, wind and cold exposure.

There are many aggravating factors, that whilst not directly causing the capillaries to occur in the first instance, if you have broken capillaries, they will make the vessels stand out. Anything that raises body temperature, such as exercise, hot spicy food, saunas, very hot showers or alcohol will exacerbate existing broken capillaries. This is because the body gets rid of heat through the surface of the skin and the Broken Capillaries will have increased blood flow through them as the body tries to dissipate body heat.

Where do Broken Capillaries occur?

Broken Capillaries most commonly occur on the cheeks and nose but can occur on the chin and sides of the face as well. We know sun exposure contributes to the development of broken capillaries as it is a common observation that in Australia the right side of the face is often worse, which correlates to sun exposure through the driver’s side window. Conversely in the USA, where cars are left hand drive, it is typically the left side of the face that is more likely to be affected with Broken Capillaries.

How are Broken Capillaries treated?

The treatment of choice to remove Broken Capillaries is with medical grade lasers that can specifically target blood vessels. We call these lasers Vascular lasers and there are a number of different vascular lasers. The choice of which Vascular laser is most suitable will vary with the particular problem and skin type. For most Broken Capillaries we use the EXCEL V laser and typically a tracing method is used to run the laser beam over the individual linear blood vessels to seal them off and hence remove them.

How do Vascular Lasers work?

We know that if you concentrate light you can create heat, and if you heat up skin structures enough then you can destroy them. Vascular lasers produce a concentrated light beam that is of a wavelength (colour) that is preferentially attracted to the red colour of red blood cells and by heating up these red blood cells we can very effectively seal off the unwanted blood vessels. The beauty of laser based treatments is that there is minimal heating to the overlying skin.

The EXCEL V laser has both 532 and 1064 wavelengths and the size of the laser beam can be adjusted to suit the size of the blood vessel being treated.

Is there any downtime?

Immediately after treatment there is some increased redness from the heating effect of the laser. A cold pack is applied immediately after treatment and this redness typically settles quite quickly. The skin will feel like mild sunburn for a few hours after treatment and direct sun exposure on the treated area should be kept to a minimum for the first 48 hours. There can be some swelling especially if large areas or areas close to the eyes have been treated and it can be helpful to sleep with a couple of extra pillows for the first 2 nights after treatment to minimise the chance of swelling. A few days after treatment the broken capillaries can darken and resemble small cat scratches and these may last for several days. If necessary a breathable makeup such as LYCOGEL can be used.

What are the likely costs

Medicare regards the laser treatment of Broken Capillaries as a cosmetic procedure and as such there is no Medicare rebate and the Government charges GST of 10%. The number of treatments will vary with the severity of the condition and the level of improvement required but typically Broken Capillaries respond well to 1 or 2 treatments. Expect to pay around $350 for an Excel V laser treatment. If a further treatment is necessary then it is recommended that you wait at least 4 weeks between treatments.

What is the Follow Up?

If you have a tendency to develop Broken Capillaries in the first instance there will be a tendency for more to develop in the future. Many patients find it can be several years until follow up treatments might be needed, whilst other patients come in every year for maintenance treatments. The use of measures such as sunblock are important to try and slow the rate of new capillaries developing.