Spider Veins

Spider Veins

The lowdown on spider veins and what you can do about them

Spider veins are tiny, thin veins that appear most commonly on the surface of the legs or face and affect many adults. They are clusters of tiny blood vessels that develop close to the skin’s surface often being red, blue or purple and taking the appearance of a spiderweb.

What causes spider veins?

Spider veins can be caused by genetics, obesity, trauma and fluctuations in hormone levels though in many cases the exact cause is not known.

Structural abnormalities of blood vessels are the reason spider veins develop. When one-way valves inside the veins weaken, instead of solely pushing blood towards our heart they allow some blood to flow backwards. This leads blood to pool and puts pressure on the walls of the vein.

With continual pressure, the vein walls weaken and bulge and in time we see spider veins develop.

Who gets spider veins?

They are more common in people over the age of 30 and in pregnant women and tend to be more numerous with age. Spider veins may affect more than half of women.

Doctors don’t know exactly why some people develop spider veins and others don’t, but it’s thought that the tendency to get them is linked to genetics. Also people who stand for a long time tend to increase the amount of pressure in the veins of the legs and are more likely to develop spider veins.

Other risk factors include:

  • Sun damage can enlarge the blood vessels and draw them out closer to the skin.
  • Sudden and drastic changes in the weather may affect circulation, which causes the skin in the face to flush and potentially bursting blood vessels and causing a spider vein.
  • Extreme changes in pressure may cause small broken blood vessels to appear, for example very hard sneezing or vomiting.
  • Pregnancy may cause broken blood vessels although they usually disappear after giving birth.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals may damage the skin and make blood vessels more visible.
  • Rosacea is a common condition that causes the skin to become flushed and red due to enlarged veins. People with rosacea often suffer from spider veins.
  • Alcohol can dilate the blood vessels temporarily and frequent consumption may lead to longer-lasting broken blood vessels and redness on the face.
  • Head injuries that cause bruising may also cause broken blood vessels, although in this case they will often heal as the bruise does.

Other factors include prolonged sitting, obesity, prior vein surgery, a history of blood clots, and hormone therapy.

Effects on…


In addition to the appearance of a patchwork of red and blue veins that can be seen through the skin, individuals with spider veins may also experience a range of symptoms in their legs, namely swelling, a feeling of heaviness and tiredness.

Though spider veins only rarely cause serious complications, some people may develop skin ulcers. These open wounds usually appear on the lower leg and can sometimes lead to soft tissue infections.


Spider veins are most common on the thighs, ankles and calves as well as around the face, which are highly visible areas of the body. This can have a detrimental effect on self-confidence and means people are more likely to cover up or seek treatment.

Often patients can suffer for years without looking for a treatment to improve their self-esteem but once they do, anecdotally they only regret not seeking out one earlier.


Unsightly veins in a person’s legs can lead to a reluctance to wear clothing which will reveal them, a problem particularly in the summer when hot weather calls for a summer wardrobe. Treating these veins can be an important process in allowing people to feel comfortable while socialising during the summer months.

How to treat spider veins

On your face

For finer veins anywhere on the body, in particular the face, intense pulse light (IPL) treatment delves deep into the dermis and restores the skin to its normal state. IPL consists of a series of light pulses which are absorbed into the blood, causing heat damage to the vessels which are then broken down and removed by the body’s repair processes.

Over the course of a few weeks the treated area then returns to the natural skin colour. This is a treatment which uses heat energy to selectively damage or destroy abnormal veins. An advantage of this is no needles or injections are required although there may be some minor discomfort.

Doctors may also recommend retinoid creams as they can help reduce the visibility of the veins and boost the health of the skin, although they can also dry out the skin and cause itching and redness.

On your legs

More severe spider veins are treated with a series of injections known as sclerotherapy. This treatment involves injecting a solution directly into the vein that causes it to scar and collapse, forcing blood to reroute through healthier veins. The collapsed vein is then reabsorbed into local tissue and eventually fades.

Sclerotherapy is considered the treatment of choice for spider leg veins. It’s minimally invasive and can also improve related symptoms such as aching, swelling, burning and night cramps.

Treated veins usually disappear within a few weeks although it may take up to two months for full results to become evident. It varies from person to person and some may require multiple treatment sessions.

Your doctor may recommend self care at home before opting for a treatment. This includes:
  • Wearing compression stockings
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding standing for long periods of time
  • Elevating the affected area when resting

Compression stockings are not suitable for everyone and blood circulation must be checked before these are recommended.

They are specially designed to steadily squeeze your legs to improve circulation, tightest at the ankle and getting gradually looser as they go further up your leg. This encourages blood to flow upwards towards your heart.

Compression stockings may help relieve the pain, discomfort and swelling in your legs caused by spider veins but it’s not clear whether they help prevent them from getting worse.

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