How the Sun Affects Varicose Veins

September 5, 2020 The Vein Institute

When it comes to treating varicose and spider veins, there’s many tips, home-remedies and old wive’s tales. When hearing these, it’s always best to take it with a grain of salt, but there’s one, in particular, you should avoid at all costs. One myth is that UV rays are good for varicose veins. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Let’s take a look at how the sun affects varicose veins.

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins occur when vein valves are no longer functioning properly and a condition called Chronic Venous Insufficiency develops.

When our vein valves fail, the blood begins to reflux or pool and this is what causes varicose veins to enlarge and become bluish-purple in colour. Although any vein can become varicose, leg veins are most vulnerable due to the pressure of carrying our body weight while walking and standing.

Additionally, veins in the legs are under more strain (than veins in other parts of the body) because they carry blood from the feet to the heart, which is the longest distance that blood has to travel. Most of the blood flow from the legs is handled by deep veins, located under layers of muscle and fat. Their size often means they can resist CVI, however, that is not true for the smaller superficial veins (those close to the skin surface).

Damaged veins can produce the following symptoms:

  • An aching or heavy sensation in your legs.
  • Burning, throbbing, or muscle cramping,
  • Worsened pain after sitting or standing for a long time.
  • Itching around one or more of your veins.
  • Chronic swelling in your lower legs. We’ll discuss this in more depth below.


How the sun affects varicose veins

When it comes to vein health, and health in general, UV rays can have extensive damaging effects. Prolonged exposure to the sun, tanning beds or other UV lights causes the collagen in your skin to break down more quickly. This leads to sagging weakened skin, spider veins and a greatly increased risk of melanoma and other skin cancers.

While the spider veins caused by sun damage initially tend to appear on your face, they can start to occur on your legs and other areas of your body, especially when there is repeated exposure over time. These are no less symptomatic, causing burning sensations and discomfort across the affected area, and potentially developing into more serious vein issues.

How can I protect myself?

If you have developed spider veins or damaged skin across your body, in particular on your face, shoulders or chest. It is a warning sign of sun damage and the potential for more serious issues. To make sure you’re taking care of your skin, veins and the rest of your body when you’re in the sun here are some simple tips to protect yourself and still enjoy time outside:

  • Limit the amount of time outside when UV rays are most intense. Minimising exposure between 10 am and 2 pm will avoid the worst of it.
  • Clothing. Wearing long-sleeve pants and tops along with a broad-brimmed hat when out, especially during long walks, hikes or other outdoor activities.
  • Sunscreen. Incorporating sunscreen into your daily routine is ideal for protecting yourself. If you use a moisturising cream, look for one with SPF+. If you’re going to the beach, swimming, or just outside for a while, put on some sunscreen on any exposed areas, even if it’s cloudy.
  • Assess your risk. If you’ve got a family history of spider/varicose veins, or already have existing vein issues then it’s especially important to take precautions.
  • Tanning beds. Avoid these. You may want to get a tanned look, but the UV exposure of tanning beds has many negative health effects over time. If you really want that bronzed look, go for a spray tan or use something temporary like foundation, tan cream or bronzer.

If you have varicose veins or spider veins, what are the treatment options?

One of the most popular treatments for spider veins and smaller varicose veins is a technique called ultrasound-guided sclerotherapy. For this procedure, firstly the area is numbed with a local anaesthetic, a tiny catheter is inserted into the vein and a sealant is injected. This sealant is a chemical agent that makes the walls of the vein stick to each other, causing the entire vein to collapse.

Within a short time, the now-closed vein is absorbed into surrounding tissues, and blood flow is automatically re-routed to healthier veins in the area. A few weeks later, all traces of the veins on the surface of the skin have disappeared.

Another example is endovenous laser ablation, which uses the heat from a laser beam to seal shut diseased veins instead of the chemical agents used in sclerotherapy. Like sclerotherapy, the heat is introduced into the diseased vein through a very thin catheter. A related technique is called radiofrequency ablation, which uses the heat of radiofrequency waves to close diseased veins, instead of lasers or chemical agents.

These two procedures are well-suited for large varicose veins. Like sclerotherapy, these procedures require very little recovery time because there is no major operation to recover from.

In addition, The Vein Institute is one of the pioneers in Australia of a modern non-surgical technique called medical superglue (Venaseal™), which uses a tested medical adhesive to safely and effectively close varicose veins. The benefits of this method are that the medical superglue sets within minutes, and there is no need for the prolonged healing process associated with other treatments.

Animated illustration of a normal vein and varicose vein on a leg.

Varicose Veins in Legs

Seek expert advice

The doctors at The Vein Institute specialise in varicose vein treatment. We offer patients a comprehensive program using non-surgical laser treatment techniques. You can learn more in our Definitive Guide to Varicose Vein Treatment.

The benefits of non-surgical varicose vein treatment are:

  • Walk-in walk-out treatment
  • 98% success rate
  • Extremely effective
  • Can be performed at a clinic (no hospitalisation)
  • No general anaesthetic
  • Medicare rebates apply
  • No downtime or time away from work

To book a consultation and discuss our treatment program, call  1300 981 402. Or, make an enquiry via the Contact Us page.