Birthmarks are colored spots on the skin that babies are born with or develop shortly after birth. More than 10 in 100 babies have birthmarks.
These marks vary in color from bright red, pink, brown, tan, and blue-ish. Birthmarks can be flat on the surface of the skin or raised. The different colors and consistencies are different types of birthmarks.
Types of birthmarks include:
Café-au-lait Spots–These are light tan colored spots. Having up to three such spots on your body is fine. But, having more than three café-au-lait spots can possibly indicate a condition called neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes skin tumors.
Hemangiomas–These are usually flat or slightly raised and bright red or blue-ish in color. They may appear anywhere on the body, but are often found on the face, head, and neck. Hemangiomas are usually present at birth or develop during the first few weeks of life. These birthmarks tend to grow quickly during the first 12 months of your child’s life. But they tend to stop growing after the first year and then slowly disappear. They may also be found inside the body. Two types of hemangiomas include:
- Strawberry Hemangioma–This type of hemangioma is usually raised up a bit from the skin and bright red like a strawberry. This bright red coloring is due to numerous, dilated blood vessels found close to the surface of the skin. These hemangiomas usually go away on their own by age ten (age five in almost half of children) and don’t require any treatment.
- Cavernous Hemangioma–This type of hemangioma is beneath the skin. It is puffier than a strawberry hemangioma and also more blue-ish in color. These types of hemangiomas are less likely to resolve on their own.
Macular Stain–These are often called angel’s kisses or stork bites. These harmless birthmarks are pinkish or light red and can be found anywhere on your child's body. Usually they are barely visible. No treatment is necessary for this type of birthmark.
Moles–Moles appear as dark brown or black spots. Nearly everyone has small moles. They usually begin to appear after birth and are actually small groupings of colored (pigmented) skin cells.
Mongolian Spots–These flat birthmarks on the surface of the skin have a blue-gray color and are often located on the buttocks or base of the spine. These types of birthmarks are generally harmless, however, they are sometimes mistaken for bruises. They tend to disappear by puberty.
Port-wine Stains–Port-wine stains are pink, red, or purple colored blotches on the skin. Their size varies, and they can be found on the face, neck, arms, or legs. Although there are treatments to minimize the appearance of port-wine stains, they are permanent.
The exact cause of birthmarks is unknown.
A risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting a disease or condition. The following factors increase your chances of developing particular birthmarks:
- Hemangiomas are more common in females and premature babies
- Mongolian spots are more common among Asians, East Indians, Africans, Native Americans, and Hispanics
- Café-au-lait spots are more common in African-Americans than other ethnic or racial groups
If you or your child experiences any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to birthmarks. These symptoms may be caused by other health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.
- Changes in the color of the skin (lighter or darker than usual)
- Lumps or swelling on the skin
- Changes in texture of the skin
- New lesions on the skin
- May differ in size and appearance
- Are most likely present at birth or appear in the first few weeks of life
- Are commonly found on face and neck
Most of these birthmarks, though cosmetically undesirable, are generally harmless. However, hemangiomas and port-wine stains may produce some complications:
- Open sore or ulcer
- Interference with the appearance or function of nearby structures (e.g., eye or mouth)
- Excessive bleeding after an injury
- Sudden and rapid growth
- Emotional and social complications
- Interference with the function of nearby structures (e.g., eye)
- Growth problems
- Easy bleeding
On rare occasions, moles can become cancerous. Any suspicious pigmented lesion should be examined by a physician and either closely observed or removed.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Birthmarks are usually diagnosed based on the appearance of the skin area. If there is any question of the diagnosis, a biopsy may be taken for laboratory examination and you may be referred to a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in skin disorders.
Most birthmarks can and should be left alone. Treatment is generally recommended if the birthmark is:
- Cosmetically undesirable and unlikely to resolve on its own
- Causing discomfort or complications
- Has the potential to develop into a more serious condition (rare)
Treatment options include the following:
Corticosteroid Medications–A type of anti-inflammatory medication that can be given orally (by mouth) or locally injected (preferred). It is the most common treatment for rapidly growing hemangiomas. However, corticosteroid medications are for long-term use and, if given orally, have a number of risks including poor growth in children and elevated blood sugar.
Laser Therapy–Lasers can be used to prevent growth of hemangiomas and to remove hemangiomas and port-wine stains.
Surgery–May be used to remove a pigmented lesion (e.g., a mole) or remove residual scars left behind from other treatments.
Cosmetic Alternatives–There are many make-up products that effectively cover up birthmarks. These are sometimes referred to as corrective cosmetics and include concealers, neutralizers, and camouflage products.
Regular check-ups with your primary care doctor or dermatologist are important for lesions undergoing treatment or observation.
There is nothing that you can do to prevent birthmarks. Birthmarks are congenital (something with which you are born) and apparent at birth or by the first few weeks of life.