Birthmarks are areas of discolored and/or raised skin that are apparent at birth or within a few weeks of birth. Birthmarks are made up of malformed pigment cells or blood vessels.
Although the cause of birthmarks is not known, most of them are benign (non-cancerous) and do not require treatment. Babies with birthmarks should be examined and diagnosed by a doctor.
What are the most common types of birthmarks?
The following are the most common types of birthmarks:
Stork bites or salmon patches: These are small pink or red patches often found on a baby’s eyelids, between the eyes, upper lip and back of the neck. The name comes from the marks on the back of the neck where, as the myth goes, a stork may have picked up the baby. They are caused by a concentration of immature blood vessels and may be the most visible when the baby is crying. Most of these fade and disappear completely.
Mongolian spots: These are blue or purple splotches on the baby’s lower back and buttocks. African-American, Asian and Indian babies have Mongolian spots, but they occur in dark-skinned babies of all races. The spots are caused by a concentration of pigmented cells. They usually disappear in the first four years of life.
Hemangiomas: This is a bright or dark red, raised or swollen, bumpy area that is formed by a concentration of tiny, immature blood vessels. Most of these occur on the head but can appear anywhere on the body. They may not appear at birth, but often develop in the first few months. Infantile hemangiomas are more common in premature babies, can grow in size for several months and then gradually begin to fade. While most infantile hemangiomas can get smaller during the first five years of life, they sometimes require surgery for removal. If the hemangioma is especially large or occurs near the eye, in the mouth or blocks the ear canal, our specialists will conduct an evaluation.
Port-wine stains: A port-wine stain is a flat, pink, red or purple birthmark. These are caused by a concentration of dilated tiny blood vessels called capillaries. They usually occur on the head or neck. They may be small, or they may cover large areas of the body. Port-wine stains do not change color when gently pressed and do not disappear over time. They may become darker and may bleed when the child is older or as an adult. Skin-colored cosmetics may be used to cover small port-wine stains. The most effective treatment for port-wine stains is with a special type of laser when the baby is older. Our plastic surgeons specialize in this treatment.
Moles: Also known as congenital nevi, these can be skin-colored, brown or black, flat or raised and small or large. They can occur anywhere on the body. Moles can also occur in adulthood, but only moles that are present at birth (congenital) are considered birthmarks. Congenital nevi can develop into cancer later in life and the size of the nevi is important, as larger nevi are more likely to become cancerous.
How are birthmarks treated?
If a birthmark is causing an abnormal appearance or health problems, our plastic surgeons can discuss treatment options for your child. Laser therapy is usually effective for capillary malformations or port-wine stains. Arterial malformations are often treated by embolization (blocking the blood flow into the malformation). Venous malformations are usually treated by direct injection of a clotting medication which causes clotting of the channels. Most often, a combination of these various treatments, which may also include surgery, is used for effective management of the birthmark.