With age comes wisdom, experience… and spider veins.
While not everyone develops spider veins, the many people who do often find them frustrating or even embarrassing. Could light therapy provide a way to help with the appearance of unsightly spider veins?
Below, we discuss what spider veins are, how they differ from varicose veins, and the available research on light therapy for spider veins.
Light Therapy’s Effect on the Skin
Light therapy, also called phototherapy, is a safe and effective treatment often used to maintain skin health and rejuvenate aging skin. Light therapy isolates various wavelengths from the light spectrum and shines them onto the body part being treated.
What Are Spider Veins?
Spider veins are small blood vessels that become widened, making them visible at the surface of the skin. They are usually blue, red, or purple, and have a thin, spiderweb-like appearance. Spider veins are most common on the face, chest, and legs.
Spider veins are not the same as varicose veins, though varicose veins can cause spider veins. Varicose veins are large, swollen, bulging blood vessels that usually form in the legs.
Causes and Risk Factors for Spider Veins
When the valves or walls of veins are weak, they allow blood to “pool” inside the veins instead of flowing through normally. This pooling creates extra pressure that dilates (widens) the veins from within.
Spider veins are especially common in the legs because blood has to work against gravity to return from the legs to the heart, making pooling more likely.
Several factors can increase your risk of developing spider veins. Some of the most common factors include:
- Genetic predisposition.
- Extended time standing or sitting.
- Physical trauma.
- Hormonal fluctuations (puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause, hormonal birth control use, and hormone replacement therapy use).
- Blood clots.
Pregnant women and people older than 35 are especially at risk for spider veins. Reports indicate that 41% of women over age 50 have spider veins.
Spider Vein Symptoms
While spider veins are closer to the surface of the skin than varicose veins, they are also smaller and don’t cause the same dramatic texture changes to the skin. Spider veins may cause some itching, burning, cramping, or feeling of heaviness in the legs. However, they do not cause the pain associated with varicose veins.
Varicose veins can lead to further health complications, but spider veins are usually harmless.
Treatments for Spider Veins
Because spider veins aren’t a serious medical condition, treatment is mostly for cosmetic purposes.
Wearing compression stockings, especially if you must stand or sit for long periods of time, can help prevent spider veins from forming.
Losing weight and exercising can also encourage better blood flow and help prevent spider veins.
Sclerotherapy is a common treatment for spider veins that involves injecting the veins with a chemical solution that causes them to swell and collapse. Over time, the appearance of the collapsed veins fades. Dermatologists, surgeons, and other specially qualified physicians can perform sclerotherapy in their offices.
Laser therapy and intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy, two forms of light therapy, are other popular treatments for spider veins. They target and destroy spider veins using heat energy. While these therapies don’t involve the use of needles, the heat can be uncomfortable and sometimes injure the surface of the skin. Qualified physicians can perform these procedures.
Endovenous laser ablation is another therapy that uses light, but from inside the vein. A qualified physician applies local anesthesia to the affected area, creates a small incision, and inserts a small laser fiber. The device then emits pulses of laser light that heat up the vein from within and cause it to collapse. This therapy does not damage surrounding tissue.
Is At-Home Blue Light Therapy for Spider Veins Effective?
Various at-home light therapies are effective for a number of conditions that affect the skin’s appearance. But is at-home blue light therapy helpful for spider veins?
Research shows that blue light therapy is excellent at disinfecting (such as killing the bacteria that cause acne) and can be used effectively against acne via at-home devices. However, at this time clinical evidence for any type of at-home light therapy, including blue light therapy, for spider veins is lacking.
Much of the existing research on light therapy for spider veins involves the use of lasers or intense pulsed light (IPL) in a medical setting rather than at home.
Evidence for Light Therapy for Spider Veins
One retrospective research study reviewed photographs and records for 160 patients with facial spider veins. Patients each received two treatments of four varying types of laser or IPL therapy. Patients in all four groups showed significant improvement of spider vein appearance after treatment. The researchers concluded that both types of treatment were effective and safe for spider veins on the face.
In a 2006 issue of Cutaneous and Cosmetic Laser Surgery, writers stated that laser and light therapy should be used to treat spider veins that remain after more conventional treatments address the larger veins.
A more recent study investigated the use of blue laser therapy for spider veins and port wine stains. In the spider vein group, the blue laser effectively treated spider veins on the face, but not on the legs.
Evidence Against Blue Light Therapy for Spider Veins
Studies on at-home blue light therapy for spider veins aren’t yet available, and some physicians vehemently warn against it.
Many dermatologists consider at-home blue light therapy for spider veins an ineffective treatment and a waste of money. They also consider medical spa treatments involving blue light therapy for spider veins a sham.
Most of the surgeons who publish these opinions online offer surgical treatments for spider veins, so perhaps some bias is present. However, some do acknowledge that blue light therapy may be effective for spider veins on the face and feet, though not on the legs.
Are You Considering At-Home Blue Light Therapy for Spider Veins?
Light therapy for spider veins is a fairly new treatment field. We’re likely to see more studies in the future, but the general consensus seems to be that certain forms of light therapy are somewhat effective for spider veins.
More specifically, we could not find any studies on at-home blue light therapy for spider veins, though we found the abovementioned negative medical opinions. They did not indicate any risk to patients, however.
If you’re interested in trying one of the more established forms of light therapy, such as laser or IPL treatments, speak to your doctor about whether these could be right for you.