As winter fades and the warmer weather of spring sets in, we go into frenzy in preparation for summer. Winter clothes are banished to the back of the cupboard, and our summer attire is dusted off ready for use. Shorts, miniskirts, dresses and bathing costumes are the order of the day, but inevitably we feel more comfortable in these garments if we have smooth, hairless legs.
While there are a number of highly effective ways to remove leg hair, not all of them are suitable for everyone. If you suffer from spider or varicose veins, you need to be particularly careful when choosing a hair removal method, so as not to exacerbate the problem.
What Are Spider Veins and Varicose Veins?
Spider veins are the result of a malfunction in one-way valves in your veins, predominantly those in the lower leg. When the valves stop working effectively, the pressure exerted on the veins to push blood to the heart reduces. The blood flow slows down and starts to pool in your veins. This eventually causes the veins to distort, leading to the spider veins that we can see on the surface of our skin. While spider veins are mostly a cosmetic concern, if left untreated, they can distend and twist further resulting in more unsightly varicose veins.
As blood pools in the veins, the veins expand to allow for this accumulation and push the vein walls closer to the skin’s surface. Due to this proximity to the surface of the skin, various hair removal treatments can have a detrimental effect on vein health.
Methods of Epilation
Epilation is a very effective hair removal method as it removes hair from the root, and doesn’t just remove the part of the hair we see above the skin. There are three popular ways of doing this.
Using an Epilator
An epilator is a hand-held electric or battery-operated device. As you glide the epilator along the skin, small discs in the head of the device gasp the hairs as they rotate and pull them out at the root. It can be a painful experience, but is a very effective hair-removal method.
During waxing a melted wax substance is applied to the area in the same direction as the hair growth. The wax covering is removed by peeling it off firmly against the direction of hair growth, and it pulls the hairs out from the follicle. In removing the hairs, waxing also strips the epidermis (skin) of its surface nutrients, which epilation doesn’t do, leaving them to feed the epidermis.
Sugaring is a process very similar to waxing. A mixture of sugar, lemon and water is heated until it forms a candy-like substance. When it cools, it’s spread on to the required area, against the direction of hair growth, and removed with a few quick pulls in the direction of the hair growth.
Epilation and spider or varicose veins
While each of the above methods has the same effect – removal of the hair at the follicle – some are less suitable than others for use on areas exhibiting spider or varicose veins. In general, epilation is best suited for use on larger areas with less sensitive skin, like arms and legs. It’s a popular option for hair removal, however does come with some dangers, particularly in relation to spider or varicose veins.
So, can you do epilation if you have spider veins? A lot depends on the seriousness of these varicosities, and we can look at their development and the suitability of epilation as a hair removal method, in three phases.
This is the starting point in the occurrence of spider veins. Before they become visible under the skin, you may experience a feeling of heaviness in your legs. You might also notice swelling in the feet and ankles. These are usually indications that the blood is not flowing sufficiently from your lower limbs back to your heart.
At this stage, most methods of epilation are still safe although sugaring would be the preferred method as it’s the kindest to your skin. The heat associated with waxing has the effect of warming your vein walls. This dilates the veins allowing more blood to accumulate and increasing the appearance of spider veins. Waxing isn’t recommended if you already have noticeable spider veins, even if they are faint. Using an epilator isn’t recommended either due to the abrasive action with which it removes the hairs. If the hairs are close to blood vessels, this form of epilation can cause trauma to the blood vessels.
Over time, and if left untreated or with no meaningful change in lifestyle, spider veins may become more pronounced, develop into varicose veins, and start to protrude above the surface of the skin. You’re likely to still experience heaviness, even pain, in your lower legs and discomfort in the area of the varicosities.
At this stage, it’s not recommended to remove hair by using an epilator, or by waxing. With the affected veins even closer to the skin, there is a high likelihood that there’ll be damage to the vessels. If epilation is still your preferred hair removal method, sugaring would be the best option. The temperature of the mixture won’t have an adverse effect on your veins, and the nature of the treatment is gentler than using an epilator.
By this stage, your varicose veins will have worsened, and may protrude substantially above your skin. You’re more likely to feel constant pain in the area as there is a noticeable amount more pressure due to increased pooling of the blood in your vessels. Not even sugaring is recommended, due to the severity of the varicosities and the fact that the veins will be located extremely close to the hair follicles. Epilation could result in serious damage.
The preferred hair removal method is depilation, which removes the visible part of the hair at the surface, but not the follicle or root. Depilation is a less severe form of hair removal, and you’re unlikely to cause any damage to the affected blood vessels.
The most popular depilation methods for your legs are the use of depilatory creams, which disintegrate the hair, or shaving. With shaving, you run the risk of nicking your skin. Varicose veins are susceptible to bleeding, and even the smallest cut could be serious. Depilatory creams are much less abrasive. The chemicals contained in the cream act to break down the keratin in the hair, weakening the hair’s structure and making it susceptible to breaking off when the cream is wiped away.
Spider veins should not be taken lightly or disregarded in any way. They are usually a sign of a circulatory problem which, if left untreated, may result in more severe medical issues.
There are ways that you can reduce the appearance of spider veins, and even improve your circulatory system and blood flow. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle – a good diet and regular exercise – goes a long way to improving the wellbeing of your body, including your veins.
So when you unpack your summer clothes into your cupboard in preparation for warmer weather and bikinis, make sure to check out your legs. If you notice any spider veins developing, it’s important to consult a medical professional for advice and/or treatment.
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