Spider veins might seem like a thing that happens to other people, but the truth is that they affect roughly half of all adults. Also, we hate to bear bad news, but women are more likely to get spider veins compared to men. We asked pros to give us the full scoop on why spider veins form, how to prevent them and how to effectively remove them.
What Are Spider Veins Anyway?
“Essentially, spider veins are superficial veins that appear when [very tiny] veins conglomerate just beneath the surface of the skin. These groups of veins can be red, blue, or purple,” says Dr. Manish Shah, a board-certified plastic surgeon based in Denver, Colorado.
Spider veins have absolutely nothing to do with actual spiders aside from the fact that they kind of resemble spider legs since they cluster and fan out. These clusters usually develop on our legs – specifically on the outer side of the thighs, on the ankles, and around the calves – and can sometimes show up on our face. They can be so small you hardly notice them or visible enough to drive you absolutely nuts.
Though bothersome, spider veins are completely harmless. Oh, and FYI – spider veins are technically different from varicose veins, which are much larger and have a puffy and twisted appearance. Medically, spider veins are referred to as telangiectasias or venous stasis.
Why Do Spider Veins Form?
Though the cause isn’t 100% understood, there are two primary culprits for spider veins: poor circulation and age. Dr. Kenneth Mark, a board-certified dermatologist who has offices in New York, Aspen, and the Hamptons, says that spider veins typically form from age 30 and up and that two big risk factors are standing on your feet for prolonged periods and pregnancy.
“Specifically, pregnancy compresses the veins that return blood flow back up which can lead to pooling and dilation of the veins. Similarly, standing for prolonged periods makes it harder for normal blood flow given the effects of gravity,” says Dr. Mark. Aging only expedites this process.
Other potential causes are weight gain, which Dr. Shah says can “place added pressure on leg veins,” medications such as birth control and hormonal menopausal treatments since “estrogen can weaken vein valves,” and genetics. Dr. Shah says, “Experts estimate that 60 percent of those who experience spider veins, had the condition passed down to them from the mother’s side of the family tree.”
Can You Prevent Spider Veins?
Though there’s no escaping time and genetics, there are a few things you can do to help prevent the likelihood of spider veins forming:
- Move Around: “If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, such as working at a desk or standing behind a counter, it is a good idea to get into the habit of walking around [or even sitting down] for a few minutes as a break,” says Dr. Shah. He explains that if you work in a single position like standing or sitting all day, moving around helps shift the pressure of your weight so you’re not straining the veins around your calves and ankles.
- Wear Compression Stockings: “These help physically compress the vessels,” explains Dr. Mark. You can wear these under your pants, but note that they’re not all absolutely hideous. A few brands make really cute options, including Comrad Socks, Bombas, and Crazy Compression.
- Hit the Gym: Regular exercise doesn’t just improve your overall physical health but it lowers your stress levels too. It can also help increase blood flow and strengthen the veins in your leg, says Dr. Shah.
- Manage Your Weight: “Learning to manage our weight is a good way to address and potentially prevent spider veins. Excess body fat can place more pressure on your legs, leading to protruding veins becoming visible,” explains Dr. Shah.
What’s the Best Way to Treat and Remove Spider Veins?
“While spider veins are harmless – meaning they don’t post any threat or risk to your health – they can affect your self-esteem and they can be bothersome depending on where they appear,” says Dr. Shah.
He says that many people feel like they have to hide these veins and end up adopting wardrobes that don’t include showing their legs, but there are two primary cosmetic treatments available if you want to say sayonara to these unwelcomed visitors.
Spider Veins Treatment:
- Sclerotherapy: “Many medical experts recommend sclerotherapy as the simplest treatment for spider veins. It’s essentially a treatment where a saltwater or detergent is injected into the vein causing the vessel to collapse and disappear,” says Dr. Shah. This “blanching” of the spider veins usually takes between three to six weeks and wearing compression socks can help speed up the process. Sometimes two treatments are needed. According to RealSelf, the average cost of Sclerotherapy is $525.
- Nd: Yag laser: “Some doctors also use the Nd: YAG laser to eliminate the vessels in the legs without hurting the skin,” says Dr. Shah. It works by essentially fading the color of the vessels. Two sessions are sometimes recommended, and you might experience more pain with this option, but the average cost is lower at around $150 to $300.
TL;DR? Spider veins get their name from their appearance and are caused by a variety of factors including age, genetics, pregnancy, and poor circulation caused by excessive weight, standing or sitting all day, and hormonal medications. They’re completely harmless but annoying AF, and you can help prevent them by wearing compression socks, exercising regularly, and shifting your weight throughout the day. If you’re ready to see them go, hit up your local dermatologist or plastic surgeon for a spider vein removal treatment and feel free to cover up with some leg makeup or N.Y.M.P.H. meanwhile.