What Are Broken Capillaries? Key Causes 

If you have small, red, webbed lines across your skin, you may be wondering: “what are broken capillaries?” and what causes them?

If you have small, red, webbed lines across your skin, you may be wondering: “what are broken capillaries?” Though harmless, the appearance of broken capillaries on the skin can be a source of insecurity for sufferers, affecting confidence and self esteem.

Download a FREE beauty guide

Discover our collection of free beauty guides.

ageing skin guide

What Are Broken Capillaries?

Broken capillaries, also known as thread veins, spider veins or telangiectasia, are a common skin concern that many people encounter at some point in their lives. Capillaries are small, delicate blood vessels that serve a very important purpose. By connecting arteries and veins, capillaries facilitate the exchange of oxygen, nutrients, and waste products between the blood and surrounding tissues. When blood vessels become dilated or damaged, they can appear as fine red or purple lines on the skin. Thread veins commonly occur on the face and the legs.

Broken Capillaries: Causes 

Now we have answered “what are broken capillaries”, let’s find out what the causes are so you can get onto treating your broken capillaries.


As we age, the skin becomes thinner and loses strength, and blood vessels weaken too. Therefore, broken capillaries from day to day activities are more likely. Thinner skin is also more delicate, and more prone to injury, which is another cause of thread veins. Despite this, anyone at any age can experience broken capillaries.


Vessels can be permanently damaged by bruising or injury to the body, particularly where the skin is sensitive. Repeated pressure caused by wearing a pair of glasses or frequently popping pimples can result in broken capillaries on the face.


Periods of hormonal fluctuations, such as pregnancy, can result in broken capillaries. Elevated levels of oestrogen and testosterone weakens the blood vessels, causing them to stretch more easily than normal. The damage reduces function of the capillaries, contributing to blood pooling under the surface of the skin. Often, visible thread veins that occur during pregnancy resolve themselves after giving birth.


Rosacea is a common skin condition that results in excessive redness and flushing of the skin. Along with these symptoms, erythematotelangiectatic rosacea is a type of rosacea also characterised by enlarged and visible blood vessels.

Sun Exposure

Excess sun exposure is an extremely common cause of broken capillaries within the skin. Over time, UVA rays cause damage to the walls of the vessels, causing them to thin out and become more visible. This usually occurs over the nose, cheeks and chin. UVB rays also cause superficial damage to veins and capillaries within the skin with excessive sun exposure, resulting in sunburn. UV rays on very hot days can be particularly bad for the skin, as weather changes contribute to thread veins.

Weather Changes

Very high temperatures on a sunny, hot day can increase the chances of broken capillaries as the blood vessels dilate. High temperatures from saunas, spas and baths can also have the same effect, while colder weather can minimise the appearance of blood vessels. Dramatic weather changes can impact your circulation, and fluctuating air pressures can cause small blood vessels to break.

Alcohol & Smoking

Excessive alcohol consumption can dilate blood vessels and contribute to the formation of broken capillaries, particularly on the face. Smoking can also have a negative impact, as the chemicals make it harder for blood vessels to work efficiently. As a result, blood vessels have a harder job pushing blood forward, and the pooled blood makes thread veins more visible on the skin.


Research suggests there is a genetic link to developing thread veins, as up to 90% of those suffering with dilated vessels have a family member with the same condition.

Vomiting & Sneezing

Sudden, extreme pressure from vomiting or sneezing can result in broken capillaries on the face, as vessels rupture within the skin.

Find a Therapist