If you’re a new parent or the proud bearer of a birthmark all your own, you may have some questions about birthmarks. Why do people get birthmarks, and where do they come from? What can be done about an unwanted birthmark? Read on to find out more.
Birthmarks are a part of life for many people. Learn about the various types of birthmarks that exist, how they’re distinguished from each other and which types might be a cause for concern. Finally, learn about how to accept your birthmark — or, if not, peruse some common treatment options.
What is a birthmark?
Birthmarks are skin lesions that can vary in size, shape and color. They may appear blue or blue-gray, brown, tan, black, pink, white, red or purple and may be smooth or raised. While many birthmarks are of no medical significance, all birthmarks should be checked by a doctor, especially those that grow or change in color, texture or shape. Call your doctor if a birthmark ever bleeds, hurts, itches or becomes infected.
A few facts about birthmarks:
Types of birthmarks
Medically, birthmarks are referred to as “nevi” (plural) or a “nevus” (singular). There are two basic types:
Unfortunately, neither vascular nor pigmented birthmarks are preventable. Also, birthmarks aren’t linked with trauma during pregnancy or childbirth and are usually not hereditary.
The most common types of vascular birthmarks include:
Macular stains. These are the most common type of birthmark, also called Angel’s Kisses (when located on forehead, eyelids, tip of nose or upper lip) and Stork Bites or Salmon Patches (when found on back of neck). They’re usually flat and require no treatment. Angel’s Kisses most often disappear by age two, while Stork Bites persist into adulthood.
Hemangiomas. Hemangiomas are raised clusters of abnormal blood vessels and usually appear blue, red or purple. Those that develop on the top layers of skin are known as Strawberry hemangiomas, while Cavernous hemangiomas occur deeper beneath the surface. Most hemangiomas occur on the head or neck, and are common in females and premature babies. About 30 percent of hemangiomas are visible at birth, while the rest develop within one to four weeks after birth. Rarely is a hemangioma fully grown at birth. Most continue to grow for up to 18 months and then begin a slow regression that lasts between three and 10 years.
Port-wine stains. Port-wine stains are flat, pink, red or purplish stains that occur in three in 1,000 infants. They’re permanent and grow proportionately with the child, often becoming thicker and darker with age. Port-wine stains on the forehead, eyelids and face can be associated with glaucoma, seizures and Sturge-Weber syndrome, so infants with port-wine stains in these areas should have a thorough eye exam. Port-wine stains may be caused by Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a congenital medical condition in which blood vessels or lymph vessels don’t form properly.
The most common types of pigmented birthmarks include:
Congenital nevus. Congenital nevi are large, dark-colored moles (usually dark brown) that vary in size and shape and can grow anywhere on the body. They may also have hair growing from them. Children with a large congenital nevus at birth (usually larger than a fist) have an increased risk of developing skin cancer as adults. This skin cancer risk is relative to the size, shape, location and color of the mole.
Café-au-lait spots. These smooth, light brown-to-chocolate brown spots can appear anywhere on the body, although they’re usually located on the torso, buttocks and legs. They’re very common, but if your child has more than six of these spots, check with your doctor as this may signal the genetic disorder Neurofibromatosis.
Mongolian blue spots. Also called slate-blue nevi, these birthmarks are often uneven in shape and occur on the lower back and buttocks. They’re more common in darker-skinned babies, especially those of Asian heritage, and may disappear later in childhood. They do not become cancerous or develop other symptoms.
Treatment options for birthmarks:
Most birthmarks are left untreated, unless they pose a health risk. However, because birthmarks often cause social and emotional side effects, many individuals or parents will seek treatments to minimize their appearance. Many treatments for birthmarks are controversial, especially in children, as they can be painful and aren’t always effective.
Pigmented birthmarks generally don’t cause any problems, so they’re not often treated – with the exception of moles, which might be removed if they’re believed to be a cancer risk. Café-au-lait spots are sometimes removed with lasers, but unfortunately can return.
The following treatments are used for hemangiomas:
A birthmark is as individual as you are, so don’t see it as a nuisance. In most cases, a tube of concealer is all you need to help a birthmark blend in to the rest of your skin. If you’re a parent, do your best to help your child see that birthmarks are a natural part of life. Unless the mark is a medical issue or significantly affects your quality of life, you most likely won’t need to undergo professional procedures for a birthmark.
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A: Usually, an injury to a hemangioma, or raised birthmark, is treatable at home. These birthmarks do contain blood vessels that, when scratched, can bleed significantly, so it’s wise to be careful. Wash well with soap and water, use an antibiotic cream, and cover it with a gauze bandage. Apply gentle pressure for about 10 minutes. If the hemangioma won’t stop bleeding, consult your doctor. A: Your daughter needs a little more information about where the birthmark came from and what it is, so that she won’t just see it as an ugly mark or imperfection. Show her pictures in books of children and adults with similar birthmarks, and help her understand where they come from. You could also have her talk with a counselor at school, who can find out what she’s specifically worried about, whether it’s being teased or just feeling different.
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