Broken Capillaries

Broken capillaries (couperosis) are one of the biggest bugbears in skincare. More and more people are affected because of pollution, stress, powerful UV rays, etc. Here’s what you should know and also a few tips in question and answer form.

What are broken capillaries?

Broken capillaries cause a permanent state of redness on certain areas of the face such as the forehead, head, cheeks, nose or chin. Some people even have them on their chest. Sometimes, as well as redness, you can even see the broken veins. This is a chronic condition so treatment must be repeated over long periods.

How is it different from rosacea?

Rosace is a more advanced stage of broken capillaries (more severe) . You can often have small pimples (red or white), and sometimes rough patches or swelling.

What are the causes of broken capillaries?

As with many conditions, the first cause is heredity. Next comes people with sensitive skin or a pale complexion (have you ever been to Finland? ;o), climate, (includes people who live in areas with big temperature changes, very cold to very hot and vice versa), hot flashes (alas yes, women going through the menopause for example), pollution, sun exposure, intense cold or wind, regular alcohol consumption (especially red wine), diet (spicy food, coffee, tea, cola, chocolate etc.), scratching the face, illness (fever, flu etc.), emotions (stress, tiredness, embarrassment, anger etc,) and many others.

Who is most affected?

Anybody can get broken capillaries, including babies, but the condition is most often seen in adults between 30 and 50, and more in women.

How can you prevent broken capillaries?

Having read the causes, you can try to avoid these situations as much as possible. For example, avoid sun exposure but if you do go out in the sun, wear a hat and a sunscreen with an SPF of 50+ (Europe) or higher (America). A good moisturizer can help too. Apply it twice a day, morning and evening. Avoid irritating your skin with too-harsh products such as lotions containing alcohol, creams with salicylic, glycolic or fruit acids (AHA), exfoliants with granules (you can exfoliate but avoid areas with broken capillaries), peelings, etc. Go for soothing skin care ranges designed for sensitive skins. Products containing thermal water can be helpful too. Choose water-based, un-perfumed creams, and see my article: SOS sensitive skin.

What treatments are available?


Certain over-the-counter creams can help but don’t expect miracles. Of course it all depends on the severity of your symptoms. Among the most popular are Rosaliac by La Roche-Posay, Rosacure by Canderm, Créaline by Bioderma, Sensiphase by A-Derma (Ducray) and Antirougeurs line by Avène. Witch hazel can also help but make sure your problem isn’t rosacea (it’s not suitable for rosacea).
You can also get more effective creams prescribed by a dermatologist and these can be designed for a particular problem. Among these are hydrocortisones, creams containing metrodinazole, azelaic acid, etc.


Sclerosing products (such as Sclerodex) can be injected in each vein, in conjunction with electro-cauterization (for the smallest veins), but laser treatment is now more effective.

Oral antibiotics/medication

Certain medications can help such as low doses of antibiotics or hypertension medication which prevents blood vessels from dilating.

Laser treatment

This is currently the most effective treatment for broken capillaries as well as rosacea. It gives rapid results; after 3 treatments on average. The laser destroys the small blood vessels visible on the skin’s surface and they are then eliminated by the body. They are destroyed by sending a coloured pulsing ray (various colours according to the type of laser) that is absorbed by the vessel which then becomes irritated, dries up and eventually disappears completely. You usually need 4 to 6 treatments, at 4 to 6 week intervals, for the treatment to work. Each session lasts 10 to 20 minutes. It will not completely eliminate all the broken capillaries but their appearance will be greatly diminished. Many types of lasers are available and your dermatologist will advise you about the best type for your case and will subsequently be able to adjust the treatment according to your reaction to it.

Laser treatment is not advisable if you are tanned because it won’t be so effective. So go during winter to be certain. According to your level of sensitivity, you may be given an anesthetic cream to apply 30 minutes before the treatment to reduce pain. Some clinics even suggest local anasthetic (injections).
However, the cost is rather high and you have to renew the treatment after a few years because broken capillaries are chronic. The price will depend on the size of the area to be treated but it costs around 100 to 150 Euros in France, and between 75 and 150$CA in Canada.

Camouflaging redness with makeup

If you don’t want to go for treatment, makeup is a good alternative. To consult my article on the subject, click here.

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