How come i can see my veins through my skin?
You know that feeling when you look at your hand and all of a sudden your veins are the stars of the show? What gives with being able to see those things so clearly anyway? Can’t they just hide in there like good little blood vessels? Fear not, my curious reader – we’re about to peel back (not literally) the layers on this question.
Blood vessels aren’t invisible
First off, let’s get one thing out of the way. Your veins aren’t invisible because they physically can’t be. You might think your skin is pretty thick, but it’s actually only about 2 millimeters thin.[^1] That means if anything even remotely sizeable is lurking underneath it, odds are good you’ll be able to spot it from above.
Now add venous dilation into the mix – which happens when blood flow increases and causes your veins to expand – and voila! It’s basically like putting Christmas lights under sheer curtains: no hiding that glow.
But why are some people more vein-y than others?
Surely there must be some reason certain individuals’ circulatory systems seem more prominent than others’, right? There sure is! Brace yourselves for some terminology that sounds made up but isn’t.
One factor has to do with how much subcutaneous fat someone has. This refers specifically to adipose tissue located directly beneath our skin.[^2] The amount varies from person-to-person; thinner individuals generally have less subcutaneous fat between their muscle layer and overlying epidermis whereas overweight/obese people can have quite a bit more.
Why does this matter for seeing your veins though? Here’s why: overlying subcutaneous fat helps scatter light waves as they pass through our bodies due to its low refractive index compared to collagen fibers or muscle tissue. Conversely, veins without subcutaneous fat under them appear more prominent because scattering is reduced.[^3] Basically less fabric means the outline of anything underneath it will be more noticeable.
Another factor has been shown to play a significant role in vascularity: gender. Studies have consistently shown that women tend to have fewer visible veins, on average, compared to men.[^4] Attributing this trend largely comes down to the difference in skin structure between males and females – specifically collagen content as well as thickness (women’s overall skin density is about 25% less than men’s[^5]) – contributing towards lower subsurface reflections and thus less conspicuous vasculature.
What do our veins actually do?
Now, we’ve established what causes people’s circulation pathways (at least visibly) different from one another. But why do all humans even have such conspicuous blood vessels if they can look gross sometimes?
Well first off let’s acknowledge that ‘gross’ or ‘unappealing’ are clearly subjective terms here. As far as your circulatory system goes though,[^6] those visible blue-green-purple-flecked threads overlying muscle tissue are merely just superhighways delivering oxygenated blood around our bodies while returning deoxygenated blood back towards the heart & lungs for replenishment.
Without getting too technical with jargon like venous valves, both these arterial/venous paths vary thankfully throughout one particular vascular network: capillaries. Here’s where nutrients exchange between passing blood cells and surrounding tissues take place helping keep life away from looking zombie-like with rosy pink cheeks!
Can seeing veins hurt us at all?
Short answer = nope! In fact there’s tons of other sensations way worse than witnessing whether you’re part of Trixie Mattel’s tribe or not so don’t sweat it.[^7]
Wrapping it up
So there you have it folks. You can thank subcutaneous fat (or lack thereof), your overall gender identity, and the anatomy of an incredibly efficient system for carrying info across the body’s highway! And if anyone ever tells you to just cover up that skinny frame or stop exercising so hard because they don’t wanna see any bulging veins well.. refer back to this relevantly useful article!