I’ve had little broken capillaries around my nose for a long time, so when I was offered the chance to try out a treatment with Cynosure, one of the leading aesthetic equipment manufacturers in Australia, I jumped at the chance to be a human guinea pig.
If you’re not familiar with them, broken capillaries (also known as spider veins, or facial telangiectasia if you want to get really nerdy) are little red thread-like blood vessels that are visible on your skin. They aren’t really broken per se – they develop when the walls of blood vessels that lie very close to the surface of your skin weaken and expand, so they become more visible. They’re generally caused by environmental trauma (sun damage, rubbing, extreme temperatures, harsh skincare treatments, irritation) combined with a predisposition towards them forming, which might come from genetics, pregnancy, rosacea or any other number of conditions. I had seasonal allergies at the same time as I was testing out some hardcore irritating retinol products, which led to some broken capillaries around my nose. They’re not super severe, but I do end up needing concealer around my nose to stop it from looking like I’ve just finished blowing my nose violently. (I think part of it is also my skin improving to the point where I’m focusing more on smaller blemishes…)
Unfortunately there aren’t any effective over-the-counter treatments for broken capillaries. Light treatments (laser and IPL) are the safest and most effective way to treat them. The other main options for treating broken capillaries are surgery and sclerotherapy, where a chemical is injected into the vessel to kill it, but these are a bit riskier especially for the face.
Light treatments use a principle called selective photolysis, which just means they use light to burn the capillary without burning the surrounding skin. Much like how sunlight heats up black fabric much faster that white fabric, a laser or IPL machine uses light that’s strongly absorbed by the capillary but not as strongly absorbed by everything around it. It’s trickier for darker skin – melanin absorbs pretty much every wavelength, so it’s a bit of an art to find the right wavelength and the right quantity of light to hurt the capillaries without causing the skin to burn or darken. Here’s a graph they have at the Cynosure clinic in Pymble showing the absorption of oxyhemoglobin vs melanin (and a few other things) – the higher the line, the greater the absorption at that particular wavelength (or colour of light).
You can see that melanin absorbs all wavelengths pretty well, so dark skin is tricky to treat with light treatments in general! (It gets even more complex than this, since shorter wavelengths don’t travel as deeply into the skin, and the timing of the pulses can make a big difference to how effective the treatment is, and what side effects you get.) After the capillary gets burned, it seals off and your body then hopefully shuttles away the dead material over the next few days.
My treatment used the Cynosure Icon. It’s a pretty cool machine that can deliver single wavelengths or broad pulses containing a range of wavelengths, and is the leading IPL and laser treatment system used by professionals for capillaries and veins, as well as port wine stains, rosacea, pigmentation, stretch marks, scars and wrinkles. It can also do hair removal. It has a handy melanin reader that can work out how dark your skin is, so the right amount of light can be used to suit your skin.
My treatment involved a few pulses of light with the MaxG attachment. Since I’m Asian, I’m very prone to hyperpigmentation regardless of how tanned I am at the time, so my skin needs to be very conservatively treated. The process started with a skin assessment using the melanin reader, then special eye covers were tightly stuck on to protect my eyes from the bright light. A barrier with a little window was held over my face to stop the light from blasting the rest of my skin. The technician (Sandra at Cynosure Pymble) then gave a few quick blasts to the area around my nose, then applied some sunscreen to keep the area protected on the drive home, and I went on my merry way. I had a repeat treatment 2 months later as well (repeat treatments should be at least 3 weeks apart).
Of course, the big question: how much did it hurt? Surprisingly, the answer was… not much at all! Despite me being pretty nervous (seems to be a pattern!), each blast felt like a rubber band snapping against my face, except there wasn’t any throbbing afterwards, just a slightly tight and warm feeling like a mild sunburn. The shock of seeing the flash of light did make me jump a little. The jumping, and removing the eye covers hurt way more than the actual procedure! Afterwards, the area was a little pinker and warmer than usual, but it faded after a few hours.
Price-wise, it really depends on your skin and the size of the area being treated. Capillaries will come back a year or so after each treatment, so keep this in mind before getting it done!
Here are the results:
Right side: Before and After
Left side: Before and After
On the right side, which was much worse before the treatment, there’s quite a noticeable lightening in the intensity of the redness after the treatment. On the left side, there’s a slight reduction in the darkest capillary, but overall I don’t think the difference is very big.
Overall, I think if your capillaries are just starting to show like mine, it probably isn’t worth getting them fixed just yet, since the treatment works better on darker capillaries. But if your capillaries are more severe (such as in these before and after photos from the Cynosure site), it’s worth talking to a clinic that does this procedure to check what sorts of results you can expect – the procedure is very quick, not very painful, and the results can be very impressive!
This procedure was provided for editorial consideration, which did not affect my opinion. For more information, see Disclosure Policy.