Spider veins are one of the most common types of visible veins, but while they are completely natural, not everyone will get them. In fact, in the United States, 20% of men and 15% of women, on average, will never experience spider veins. Wondering why you happen to be one of the 80-85% who do have spider veins?
While it would be nice to have a simple, straightforward answer, the reality is anything but that. The root cause of spider veins is simply damaged blood valves, but there are a host of factors that come together to increase the risk of valves becoming damaged in the first place and any one of those factors may also be modified by genetics. In other words, the matter is complex, so let’s dive into this web. Here, we shed some light on the impact of damaged valves, some of the most common factors that lead to spider veins, and how you might minimize their appearance.
The Role of Valves in Visible Veins
One of the most common types of visible veins, spider veins are small, superficial veins located between the inner and outer layers of skin. Spider veins often appear thin, in a web-like pattern, and blue or purple in color. They commonly appear on the legs but can certainly develop in other areas of the body depending on blood circulation, which is, after all, the root cause of both these visible veins and varicose veins. In fact, spider veins can be an early warning sign of varicose veins, which may require surgical intervention.
Spider veins are the effect of a damaged blood valve. Generally speaking, in a typical, healthy body, the heart is responsible for pumping blood through the entire body, delivering oxygen and nutrients to cells through blood vessels. Starting from the heart, blood circulates outward to the legs, arms, and head via arteries and is pumped back to the heart via veins. In your veins, there are little valves that help to keep blood flowing in one direction, back towards the heart. If a valve is weakened or damaged, blood falls back downward and may pool, causing the appearance of spider and varicose veins. While visible veins generally aren’t a medical concern—spider veins, in particular, are simply superficial after all—they may certainly cause cosmetic concern for many.
So, what factors may increase your risk of damaged valves and the resulting development of spider veins?
Contributing Factors Raising Your Risk of Spider Veins
Obesity: Excess fat accumulation around the midriff often signals an increased amount of fat between internal organs, which can place pressure inside the abdomen. As blood attempts to defy gravity and make its way back up from the legs to the heart, this increased pressure can form a sort of obstruction, causing increased pressure to expand veins, leading to blood pooling in these veins and the eventual appearance of spider veins. Pregnancy: Similar to excess fat, pregnancy places pressure on the abdominal area, squeezing veins and preventing optimal blood circulation. In addition, increased estrogen and progesterone levels soften tissue, causing veins to become more susceptible to stretching and weakening, which may lead to ineffective blood flow and the appearance of spider veins. Hormones: Testosterone tends to benefit soft tissue, contributing to delayed signs of aging in males as well as a lowered risk of spider veins. Because females have naturally lower levels of testosterone compared to their male counterparts, females are more likely to develop visible veins. They also tend to experience more natural fluctuations and dramatic swings in estrogen and progesterone, from puberty to pregnancy to menopause, as compared to males whose testosterone levels typically experience more subtle, gradual shifts with age. As mentioned earlier, these typically female hormones contribute to the weakening of tissue, leading to spider veins. Sun Exposure: Cumulative exposure to the sun’s UV rays can cause damage to the skin and lead to broken blood vessels and spider veins, particularly on the cheeks and nose. This is a result of UV rays damaging collagen and elastin proteins in the skin. This weakens the skin's structure and blood vessels in the damaged area. As skin tissue weakens and blood vessels dilate, spider veins emerge. Inactivity: The calves are considered the “heart” of the legs. When your body is active, these muscles in the legs help to pump blood back up the heart. Sitting or standing still for extended periods of time means your body has to fight against gravity without help from your calves to pump blood. Over time, valves weaken, and veins become visible. Genetics: The family history factor is a major player in whether or not you’ll develop spider veins. In fact, 90% of those with a family history of spider veins have them. If your mother or father experienced them, your chances of developing them increase with that risk, which can be further exacerbated by any of the above contributing factors. Essentially, this genetic component is an additional layer as well as a significant risk factor on its own.
How to Treat Spider Veins
While it may be tempting to add massaging or dry brushing to your below-the-belt beauty care to theoretically promote circulation and reduce the appearance of spider veins, these treatments are unlikely to be effective. This is because the main concern is damaged valves within the veins. Once valves are weakened, the damage can’t be undone. However, aesthetic treatments can help to reduce the appearance of superficial spider veins and broken blood vessels by targeting pigment within the vein.
Powered by Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) technology, Venus Versa™ photofacial treatments can effectively reduce the appearance of spider veins. Targeting pigment under the skin’s surface, within the vein itself, these photofacial treatments deliver thermal (heat) energy, causing superficial spider veins to contract, scar over, and fade. With a customized plan, photofacial treatments may be adapted to suit your needs, whether you’re treating spider veins on the legs or vascular marks on the face. Because spider veins are linked to blood flow, new ones may pop up or treated veins may appear to “return.” For this reason, maintenance treatments may be required. Your treatment provider will provide more insight into a recommended treatment plan to meet your long-term aesthetic needs.