Birthmarks are skin abnormalities that are present at birth or appear soon after birth.
Birthmarks are divided into two main categories: vascular or pigmented. Vascular birthmarks are the result of an overgrowth of blood vessels. Birthmarks in this category include: port wine stains, hemangiomas and stork bites. Examples of pigmented birthmarks include: café au lait spots, Mongolian spots and moles.
There is no way to prevent birthmarks and they are not caused by anything a woman does or does not do during pregnancy. The majority of birthmarks are not harmful, but some carry cosmetic concerns.
A dermatologist should evaluate any birthmark as soon as it develops. This is to identify the type of birthmark and to establish a baseline making it possible to monitor any changes that may occur in the future. Your dermatologist should also evaluate changes in birthmarks including bleeding, itching and pain.
Treatment usually depends on birthmark type, severity and location. Some common pigmented birthmarks and treatment options are:
- Mongolian spots–these gray/blue patches resemble bruises and occur most often in babies with dark skin. They usually develop on the back and bottom and required no treatment since they typically fade within 5-6 years
- Moles – although moles can develop at any time, those present at birth are considered birthmarks. A dermatologist should evaluate congenital moles once a year to check for malignant changes.
- Café au lait spots – these common birthmarks are named for their “coffee with cream” color. The flat, oval spots tend to grow larger over time, but babies that have large café au lait spots or very large spots should be evaluated for a genetic disease known as neurofibromatosis
The following are vascular birthmarks and treatment options:
- Stork bites – also known as angel kisses and Salmon patches – are flat, pink spots caused by tiny blood vessels that form just under the skin. The spots often fade and require no treatment
- Port wine stains–these dark red or purple stains grow over time sometimes becoming bumpy and thick. Rarely, port wine stains can be a sign of a neurological disorder and those that are located on the eyelid can cause glaucoma. Large or unsightly port wine stains can be treated with laser therapy
- Hemangioma–there are two types of hemangiomas, those that appear on top of the skin and deep hemangiomas. Strawberry hemangiomas are bright red, raised birthmarks that are actually a cluster of blood vessels. The majority of strawberry hemangiomas gradually disappear within 7 years without treatment. Deep hemangiomascreate bulges and give skin a bluish color. Although many shrink in time, those near the eyes, nose or mouth may require laser treatment since they can interfere with breathing, eating or vision
Even birthmarks that are not physically harmful can impact a child’s self-esteem. If you have questions or concerns about a birthmark, talk with your dermatologist about treatment options.