If you’ve ever looked closely at the backs of your hands, arms, or legs, you may have noticed that the veins criss-crossing your body appear blue even though you know your blood is actually red. Have you ever wondered why? Let’s check out the science behind the colors!

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Why Are My Veins Blue

While veins themselves are colorless, blood that is oxygenated and flowing through our arteries is bright red, while blood that has lower oxygen content is dark red. So why, then, do our veins appear blue to the naked eye?  

This phenomenon can be explained by understanding how colors are interpreted in the first place. White light is a combination of every color of the spectrum. Each color has its own wavelength that penetrates the skin with different degrees of success. Our skin tends to scatter a lot of the red wavelengths of white light before it can reflect the color red back to us. Red wavelengths are also absorbed by the hemoglobin, the protein that makes our blood red. This leaves blue light to be reflected off the blood, through the skin, and back to your eye and explains why our veins look blue underneath the skin.

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When Should I Be Concerned About Vein Color?

There are also some other reasons that your veins may look especially dark to you. Some of them may signal an issue with your veins and should be checked by a vein specialist. The first condition that can cause darker, bulging veins is venous reflux, which causes varicose veins.

Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted, dilated veins that often protrude above the level of the skin. They often appear dark purple or blue. They are typically caused by an underlying issue in the venous system, such as venous reflux (also known as venous insufficiency, which is a result of broken valves inside the veins, causing the blood to flow “backward” in the veins). Varicose veins can have symptoms such as a heavy feeling in your legs, skin discoloration, swelling, and worsened pain after sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time.  

There are a number of factors that can raise your risk of developing varicose veins. Some of these factors include:

  • Aging causes wear and tear on the valves in your veins.
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause 
  • Heredity 
  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time 

The second problem that can cause vein discoloration is spider veins. Spider veins are small, damaged veins typically measuring less than 1mm in diameter, and often appearing in “clusters.”  They most frequently appear on the surface of the legs or even the face. Although they usually are not painful or harmful, they can be indicators of deeper venous issues. They are usually more of a visual nuisance than a medical one but may cause an achy or burning feeling. 

The factors that can affect the development of spider veins are similar to those for varicose veins:

  • Heredity 
  • Obesity.
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause 
  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time 

Unfortunately, there is no way to completely prevent the development of varicose veins or spider veins. You may reduce your risk by improving your circulation, exercising on a regular basis, maintaining a healthy weight, and adhering to a balanced diet. It is also important to change your sitting or standing position frequently. 

So while it is a fact of science that our veins appear blue through the skin, there are times when dark blue, purple, or red veins can signal vein problems that need to be cared for. If you become concerned by the coloration of your veins, it is important to see a vein specialist, such as Dr. Robert Cutchen, at your earliest convenience. He and his staff would love to help care for your veins and keep them healthy for a lifetime!

“I could not be happier with the services provided by Dr. Cutchen’s and his entire staff. Everyone treated me with respect and cared for the improvement of my veins and I never felt like “just another number”. Follow up care was great. The office manager is really easy to work with and never caused me any issues. Overall- this is the place to be treated!” *

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Take The Next Step

If you are ready to treat any of your vein concerns, then it’s time to take the next step by calling the trusted vein specialists at Albuquerque Vein & Laser Institute at 505-848-VEIN or fill out the form on this page and one of our staff members will reach out to you promptly. Albuquerque Vein & Laser Institute is located in the Journal Center area of Albuquerque and proudly serves vein patients throughout the entire Albuquerque area, as well as Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Santa Rosa, Los Lunas and other areas throughout New Mexico.

** This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician.