There are many different types of birthmarks that can differ by color and location. Most are normal and only affect the appearance of your skin, while some can be associated with internal conditions. Some birthmarks may indicate the presence of a more serious underlying health concern.
Wellness & Prevention
As the name implies, birthmarks are typically present from birth. Other than the psychological impact they can have, particularly when they are on the face, arms, legs or other visible areas, birthmarks are not often serious. In some rare cases, complications such as bleeding from vascular birthmarks may occur.
Depending on where a birthmark is located, they may cause additional complications. For example, port wine stains near the eye or on the eyelids can contribute to a higher risk of developing glaucoma. Hemangiomas are known to grow internally on organs (especially the liver) in addition to on the skin’s surface. They could also grow on other organs or in the throat, blocking the airway, although this is not usual.
The majority of birthmarks are harmless, and many even disappear naturally over time without any additional medical treatment. The most common effect of birthmarks is feeling emotional distress due to how they look.
Birthmarks can come in many different forms, but generally fall into two categories: pigmented birthmarks or vascular birthmarks.
- Pigmented Birthmarks include moles, café-au-lait spots and Mongolian spots. Color can range from pink to light beige to dark brown or even greyish-blue. Although moles can be raised, most other birthmarks don’t usually feel different from the surrounding skin.
- Vascular Birthmarks are caused by a clump of extra blood vessels. Like pigmented birthmarks, vascular birthmarks can appear in different colors and textures. Some of these, like the pink “stork bite” that’s often seen on the back of a baby’s neck, may fade with age. Others, such as reddish-purple port wine stains, may worsen over time and change in texture. Hemangiomas, which look like larger red moles (and are often called “strawberry hemangiomas” for this reason) may worsen in the first year of life, then shrink and flatten later on.
An examination of birthmarks is normally enough to confirm a diagnosis, which is based on appearance. Sometimes, a biopsy or other test may be performed to identify birthmarks, especially those that develop internally. Additional testing may also be recommended if there is a concern that the birthmark could be symptomatic of another health condition. Some vascular birthmarks may need further evaluation at Dell Children’s Medical Center.
Many birthmarks are temporary and don’t need treatment, or may be so minor that treatment isn’t desired. Others can be treated with topical or oral medication, lasers or surgery. Birthmark removal is often performed by the time children reach school age or sometimes younger to prevent socialization problems. Port wine stains, which tend to darken with age and may change in texture as well, are often treated more effectively if addressed earlier rather than later.
Some birthmarks, like hemangiomas, can be treated with oral medication like beta-blockers. Steroid injections can also shrink the birthmark. Larger hemangiomas or moles may be removed surgically.
After treatment or removal, most birthmarks require very little aftercare. An exception might be the surgical removal of a birthmark, which may involve suture and incision care. This can include making sure to change bandages regularly, keeping the area clean and applying antibiotic ointment for several days.
For birthmarks removed with laser treatment, aftercare should be minimal. There may be redness, tenderness or swelling in the treated area. These should fade within the first week to 10 days after treatment. Handle the skin gently during recovery, and avoid exposing the treated area to sunlight. In some cases, more than one treatment may be needed for the best results.
If a raised birthmark leaves the skin stretched or deformed after removal, plastic surgery may be recommended.