Birthmarks are spots or patches of discolored skin that have been present since birth or shortly thereafter. They vary widely in appearance and may fade or darken over time. Most birthmarks are harmless, although some may cause complications or become cancerous. All birthmarks should be examined by a doctor. Depending on the birthmark and individual factors, a variety of treatment options are available.
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Here are some of the most common types of birthmarks:
- Salmon patches: small, flat, pink (salmon colored) marks on the skin caused by a nest of blood vessels. These pink patches may appear behind the neck, on the forehead, between the eyes, on the eyelids, or on the nose or upper lip. No treatment is necessary.
- Port wine stains: flat, pinkish red marks that gradually darken to a deep reddish purple over time (resembling port wine). Port wine stains typically become larger and thicker over time, and they may be associated with other health complications. Various treatment options are available.
- Café-au-lait spots: light to medium brown (café-au-lait colored) spots that are smooth and oval shaped. They may be found on the torso, legs, or buttocks. Café-au-lait spots typically get larger and darker with age, and having several spots may be associated with various health conditions.
- Mongolian spots: flat, smooth marks usually found on the lower back or buttocks. They may be blue, bluish gray, bluish black, brown, or bruise-like in color. Mongolian spots are more common in infants with darker skin tones. No treatment is necessary.
- Congenital nevi: flat, bumpy, or raised moles that appear from birth. They are more likely than other moles to develop into melanoma, especially if they are larger in size. Treatment includes monitoring and removal as appropriate.
- Venous malformations: abnormally formed veins that may be found on the face, mouth, or other areas. Treatment may be necessary to alleviate pain or impaired function.
- Strawberry hemangiomas: collections of small, closely formed blood vessels that are red or purple and often raised. Strawberry hemangiomas may develop a few weeks after birth and disappear during childhood. No treatment is necessary unless they develop near the eyes, mouth, or other areas especially vulnerable to bleeding or infection.
Many birthmarks do not need treatment. In some cases, masking makeup may be applied to disguise a birthmark for cosmetic reasons. Where appropriate, one of the following birthmark treatment options may be used:
- Laser or light therapy: special light treatments treat the abnormally colored skin cells
- Microdermabrasion: a light stream of tiny particles exfoliates the skin, scraping away the surface layer of discolored cells
- Excision: the skin cells are surgically removed
- Sclerotherapy: venous malformations are closed using a medicinal chemical injection
- Oral medications: certain medications can shrink or stop birthmarks from growing
Treatment for birthmarks depends on their location, color, and depth, as well as other factors such as the patient’s age and skin type.