Maybe it was while rubbing on lotion post-shower or stretching in your new shorts after six miles on the treadmill. Whenever you noticed them, you freaked out: “I’m too young for spider veins!” The unfortunate truth is these blue or red lines don’t exclusively happen to retirees.
"It's a myth that only elderly women get spider veins; nearly everyone gets them at some point in their lives," says Alan Mintz, M.D., a vascular surgeon at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, CA. It’s quite common to see women in their 30s, 20s, and even teens with a few, he adds. [Tweet this fact!]
Known scientifically as telangiectasias, spider veins are the more common little cousin of varicose veins, Mintz says. While varicose veins are dilated, ropey-looking veins under the skin and can be quite painful, spider veins are the result of enlarged venules, or very small veins, in the skin and are typically painless.
Aging is just one of a host of risk factors for spider veins, which can also form due to pregnancy, genetics, sun damage, obesity, varicose veins, and topical or oral steroid use. Women who workout vigorously or stand for long periods of time are also at an increased risk says Eugene Elliot, M.D., a plastic surgeon at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA. "Anything that puts stress on your vascular system can cause spider veins, as the extra pressure inside your veins can cause them to bulge and expand," he explains.
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Luckily there are generally no health risks associated with spider veins on the legs and face, so don’t stop those high-intensity interval training sessions yet! However, if you spot multiple patches on your trunk or arms, make an appointment to see your doctor, as a few rare but risky genetic conditions could be to blame.
There’s no reason to remove benign spider veins, though they won't go away on their own and may worsen over time thanks to already-weakened walls, Mintz says. If you’re significantly bothered by their appearance, there are three main treatment options:
1. Makeup or self-tanner. Since having thin or light skin makes the veins more apparent, covering them up is the cheapest and easiest option. Mintz cautions against real tanning because while it can help mask the lines, the sun damage will only make you susceptible to getting more of them. [Tweet this tip!]
2. Laser therapy. In this procedure, a laser beam set to the same wavelength as your blood cells is targeted at your skin. The laser damages the blood vessels, causing them to clot, dry up, and eventually get reabsorbed into your tissue. This is the more conservative and less invasive medical treatment option, and is therefore usually the first choice for treating smaller spider veins, Elliot says. For very small spider veins on the face, cauterization is also an option.
3. Sclerotherapy. Usually the second choice because it’s more invasive, a doctor injects a liquid (most often hypertonic saline) into the veins for this treatment. The effect is the same as with laser therapy, but if your veins are larger or you have varicose veins with the spider veins, sclerotherapy is more effective, Elliot says.
If you opt for either therapy treatment, be sure your doctor is board-certified in plastic surgery and experienced in your chosen technique. Both laser therapy and sclerotherapy are outpatient procedures with a very short recovery time; Mintz says most patients are back to full activity within 24 hours. The few risks associated with the procedures are rare: Any skin ulcerations or brownish spots should clear up on their own, but a cluster of smaller spider veins or—in the case of laser therapy—depigmentation (an unnatural lightening of the skin) is permanent.
Costs vary depending on the size of the veins, the amount of area they cover, and the number of treatments required. You can expect to pay between $200 and $500 per session with an average of two to four sessions required, and many doctors offer a discount for multiple sessions. Since the procedures are generally considered cosmetic, most insurance companies won’t cover anything.
Remember too that no treatment is totally permanent, and you’ll likely get more spider veins, as they're simply part of life, Elliot adds. While you can do small things such as wearing sunscreen, avoiding standing on your feet for long periods, and donning support stockings, eventually nearly everyone will get some. Consider them beauty marks.