What Is A Birthmark?
A birthmark is exactly how it sounds. It is present on your skin when you’re born or shortly after birth. Birthmarks come in different shapes, sizes, and colors and can be anywhere on the skin. Some are so little and pale that you might not even notice them. Most of us have at least a few birthmarks.
Other birthmarks are larger and may be purple, red, or black in color. While these birthmarks are usually not harmful, someone who has one may want to have it removed by a professional. Our team of dermatologists can examine and advise whether a birthmark should be treated or simply left alone.
Why do people get birthmarks?
Some types of birthmarks run in families, but not always. Nobody really knows why some people have small birthmarks and others have larger ones. Some go away on their own while others might remain for your entire life.
There are two types of birthmarks: pigmented birthmarks and vascular birthmarks.
These types of birthmarks happen when you have more pigment (color) in one part of your skin. It’s like a spot on your skin. The types of pigmented birthmarks are:
- Mole: If you are born with a mole, it is considered a birthmark. Moles usually are small, round brown spots, but they sometimes can be larger and can be different colors. They can be pink, skin-colored or black. Some are flat and smooth; others are raised above the skin like a slight bump.
- Cafe-au-lait spot: Cafe-au-lait is French for “coffee with milk,” which is the color of these spots. They are usually light brown when present on light skin. On dark skin, they may be the color of black coffee. They can be small or large and often are oval-shaped. These spots may fade as you get older, but they probably won’t go away completely.
- Mongolian spots: These types of spots have a gray-blue pigment, resembling a bruise, and are usually found on the backs or buttocks of babies with darker skin. Sometimes they fade away, but sometimes they don’t.
A vascular birthmark is caused when a collection of extra blood vessels clump together in your skin. More than one in 10 babies have this type of birthmark. The different kinds are:
- Salmon patches: These marks are flat and are pinkish or red in color. If present on the face, they are called “angel’s kisses.” If present on the back of the neck, they are called “stork bites”. Sometimes they fade away, but they can persist throughout life.
- Hemangioma: There are two types: Strawberry hemangiomas are vascular birthmarks that develop on top of the skin and are typically bright red in color. Deep hemangiomas are bluish-purple in color and cause the skin to swell and bulge. Both types can grow for the first year after birth, but they usually shrink in size after that. Most hemangiomas become flat by the age of 10 and then fade over time.
- Port wine stains: These marks often develop on the face, and are the color of wine or grape juice: pink, red or purple. They do not go away on their own and can get larger as children grow.
What To Do About Birthmarks?
Birthmarks are usually harmless and require no treatment. Infants with vascular birthmarks usually need to see a dermatologist to determine whether treatment is necessary, especially when the lesion is located in a critical area such as near the eye or lip.
Here are some things that your dermatologist might use or suggest:
- Medicine taken by mouth or given as an injection, including oral propranolol and systemic and intralesional steroids.
- Topical medications including topical beta blockers and steroids.
- Lasers therapy might be used to make birthmarks lighter or smaller.
- Surgery may be advised to remove a congenital mole or nevus.
- Special makeup sometimes can hide birthmarks that don’t go away on their own.