Birthmarks are a common condition affecting a good number of the population. Birthmarks can be red, pink, brown, or tan, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Many birthmarks can be inconspicuous and easily ignored, but others may be large enough that they detract from the natural beauty of the face.
The emotional impact that birthmarks can have on patients, their parents and families cannot be understated. Being able to remove a strawberry hemangioma from a baby’s face, or a port wine stain that is disfiguring, can literally transform someone’s life and restore a sense of self confidence and well being.
What Causes Birthmarks?
Pigmented birthmarks are caused by abnormal concentrations of melanin in the skin. Melanin is a naturally occurring substance that gives our skin its color, but when concentrated into one spot it results in dark discoloration. Pigmented birthmarks include cafe-au-lait spots, moles, and Mongolian spots.
Birthmarks can also be vascular in nature, resulting from increased or widened blood vessels. Vascular birthmarks include macular stains, hemangiomas and portwine stains, and can range from light pink to deep red in color. Portwine stains especially tend to be large and prominent, and they don’t fade over time.
These marks can be present at birth or show up soon after. While some birthmarks will fade away over the years, others will linger into adulthood and even worsen over time. Often these birthmarks can cause self-consciousness and embarrassment, especially if they are in a prominent location. If this is the case, don’t worry: there are treatment options that can help to remove most types of birthmarks!
Red birthmarks are skin markings caused by blood vessels. This type of birthmark may develop before or shortly after a baby is born. Currently, there is no known way to prevent red birthmarks and their cause is unknown. A dermatologist should examine the birthmark to determine if it is of concern or requires treatment.
Hemangioma: A common, painless benign vascular growth that develops in early infancy, typically during the first several weeks of life. This birthmark grows rapidly during the first 6 months of life, then stabilizes in size and slowly disappears without treatment by the time a child is 9 years old.
Port Wine Stain: A flat, purple-to-red birthmark made of dilated blood capillaries. This commonly occurs on the face and is usually permanent unless treated with a laser. This type of birthmark may thicken and darken over time, and cause bleeding and psychological distress.
Salmon Patch (stork bite, nevus simplex): Appears in 30-50% of all newborns. These marks are small capillaries that can be seen through the skin. They most commonly occur between the eyebrows or on the eyelids or forehead, on the upper lip or on the back of the neck. Usually these marks fade without treatment as the infant continues to grow.
Pigmented skin markings range from brown or black to bluish, or blue-gray in color. There is no known way to prevent these types of birthmarks. A dermatologist should examine the birthmark to determine if it is of concern or requires treatment.
Mongolian Spots: These appear as bluish, bruise-like marks and most often appear on the buttocks and lower back, but can be seen anywhere on the body. Most commonly seen in darker skin types, especially Asians.
Congenital Nevi (Moles): These can be seen at birth and range in size from a few millimeters to extensive, bathing trunk-sized lesions. Only very large congenital moles (>20 cm diameter) have a higher risk of developing into melanoma, but the smaller lesions do not.
Café-au-lait Spots: These are light tan or light brown spots that are usually oval in shape and may develop at birth.
In most cases, no treatment is needed. When removal is desired for cosmetic reasons or because of suspicious changes, surgical excision may be an option for congenital nevi. Café-au-lait spots can also be treated with laser therapy.
The Cutera Excel V laser is an ideal laser for the treatment of birthmarks. This laser has three modes, which can be used accordingly to treat both superficial and deep vascular conditions, as pigmented lesions. The Cutera Excel V laser is safe, gentle, and effective, and requires little to no downtime. Depending on the condition being treated, patients may see significant results after just one session. The number of sessions required will vary depending on the condition being treated and the patient’s desired results.