Birthmarks are abnormal skin colorations in spots that are either present at birth or which appear shortly thereafter. They can be flat or slightly raised from the skin, and they may be any number of colors, including red, brown, black, tan, pink, white or purple. Birthmarks are generally harmless, but inconvenient placement can impact a person’s self-confidence. While birthmark treatment procedures do not completely remove the mark, they may help diminish or reduce their appearance.
Types of Birthmarks
There are two birthmark categories that help describe their appearance and cause. Pigmented birthmarks can grow anywhere on the skin and at any time. They are usually black, brown or skin-colored and appear singly or in groups. They can be moles (congenital nevi) that are present at birth, Mongolian spots, which look like bluish bruises and appear more frequently on people with dark skin, or café-au-lait spots, which are flat, light brown or tan and roughly form an oval shape.
By contrast, red birthmarks, also known as macular stains, develop before or shortly after birth and are related to the vascular (blood vessel) system. There are a number of different types.
- Angel kisses, which usually appear on the forehead and eyelids.
- Stork bites, which appear on the back of the neck, between the eyebrows on the forehead, or on eyelids of newborns. They may fade away as the child grows, but they often persist into adulthood.
- Port-wine stains, which are flat deep-red or purple birthmarks made up of dilated blood capillaries (small blood vessels). They often appear on the face and are permanent.
- Strawberry hemangiomas, composed of small, closely packed blood vessels that grow rapidly and can appear anywhere on the body. They usually disappear by age nine.
- Cavernous hemangiomasare similar to strawberry hemangiomas but go more deeply into the layers of the skin. These can often be characterized by a bluish-purple color. They also tend to disappear naturally around school age.
Birthmark Treatment Options
Most birthmarks are harmless, but some may cause stress and unease because of their appearance. When this is the case, there are certain techniques dermatologists use. Laser therapy, for example, can remove or significantly lighten port-wine stains, whereas corticosteroids can be injected directly into the pigmentation to shrink the mark’s size. Some birthmarks may even be removed, especially if they are very deep and pose a risk to the surrounding healthy tissue.
When to See a Doctor for Birthmark Treatment
In general, birthmarks pose no health risk and are completely innocuous. That said, some people with large birthmarks and noticeable skin pigmentation may want to explore potential treatment options. If this describes your situation, making an appointment at our Mt. Vernon office is an excellent first step.
Similarly, some birthmarks and skin pigmentation may raise red flags. The rare giant congenital melanocytic navus, a type of birthmark, can develop into a melanoma. Skin pigmentation can sometimes appear, and you may not know whether the mark is benign. If you have any questions about a mark on your skin, even if it is something you were born with, don’t hesitate to schedule a skin check with one of our dermatologists.