Birthmarks are common, benign skin conditions, and for the most part, their only negative effect is to mar the cosmetics appearance of the skin. If you or your child have a birthmark that causes you concern, a dermatologist can examine it to ensure it isn’t a more serious skin condition and provide treatment to remove or diminish the appearance of the birthmark. On this page, you can learn more about the different types of birthmarks and the available treatment options.
Birthmarks, as the name describes, are areas of discoloration (marks) that appear on or under the skin when a baby is born or that develop shortly after delivery. Birthmarks can develop in a variety of colors, shapes, and locations. Some are flat. Others are raised. Birthmarks range in size from tiny dots you barely notice to large swaths of discolored skin. Most birthmarks, regardless of size, are harmless. In rare circumstances, birthmarks may be associated with skin health concerns or actually be indicative of other systemic health issues, so it’s always best to have your child’s (or your own) birthmarks checked by a dermatologist.
Birthmarks are frequently occurring skin irregularities. Certain types of birthmarks (strawberry hemangioma, deep hemangioma, port wine stains, and salmon patches) are caused by irregular blood vessel formation. Moles and café-au-lait spots will develop when the skin produces a large number of melanocyte cells in one, concentrated location. Another type of birthmark, nevus sebaceous, is caused by overgrown skin
While there’s no specific cause for most types of birthmarks, some factors that increase the risk of developing birthmarks include:
These factors may indicate a higher risk for a child to develop a birthmark, but there’s no way to predict or prevent birthmark development. In addition to these commonalities that may indicate a higher risk of developing a birthmark, we think it’s important to list some of the commonly held causes of birthmarks that are actually myths.
Birthmarks are not caused by:
There are numerous types of birthmarks, and each has its own unique appearance.
Some of the many types of birthmarks dermatologists see regularly include:
Strawberry hemangiomas may look like a pink or red (strawberry-colored) lump. Typically, this type of birthmark protrudes from the skin and feels rubbery, but they may also develop below the skin. These birthmarks will grow for several months or longer, but eventually, the strawberry hemangioma will get smaller, softer, and lighter in color. As they grow, the hemangioma may break down and become painful, so make sure to visit a dermatologist who can help you with a treatment plan that improves comfort and diminishes healing time.
Deep hemangiomas, as the name suggests, this type of hemangioma develops deep into the skin. Color varies, but most people have skin-colored or blue-purple hued deep hemangiomas. Like strawberry hemangiomas, deep hemangiomas may also break down and cause discomfort. If the hemangioma is painful or it bleeds, take your child to see a dermatologist. This type of birthmark is typically gone by the age of ten.
Salmon patch birthmarks are typically flat and they take their name from the pinkish coloring. You will likely find that these birthmarks are more noticeable when your child is hot, crying, or otherwise becomes flushed or overheated. Some people have large salmon patches, but others have one or a few smaller spots. These birthmarks frequently appear on the face and neck. Facial salmon patches usually disappear by the age of three, but when they appear on the neck, they will lighten but may not completely disappear.
Café-au-lait spots are another flat birthmark. This type of birthmark appears darker in color than the natural skin tone. Café-au-lait spots can also be so small it’s confused with a freckle or it may cover a large patch of skin. In most cases, people have just one café-au-lait spot, however, some can have more than one. If your child develops several smaller spots around a café-au-lait spot, you should visit the dermatologist. This type of birthmark is almost always permanent.
Congenital nevus are spots on the skin that can be quite small (the size of a pencil) or larger (the size of a hand or larger). Most are light brown or tan in color at birth and become darker and more elevated over time. The congenital nevus is permanent and grows in proportion to the infant. Because rarely melanoma can develop within congenital nevi, it’s important to have these checked by a dermatologist regularly.
Congenital dermal melanocytosis (also known as Mongolian Spot or Slate Gray Nevus) often look blue, gray, or black in coloring like a bruise. Mongolian spots most commonly develop on the back and buttocks, and they vary in size. While anyone can develop a Mongolian spot, they are most common in Asian people and least common in those with pale skin. Typically, these spots go away by the time the child is ten years old.
Port-wine stain birthmarks are small spots or larger patches that are a shade of pink, red, or purple, mimicking the appearance of spilled red wine, which is why they are called port-wine stains. The birthmark will grow with your child, and the color and texture of the birthmark may change. For most people, port-wine stains are permanent.
Nevus sebaceous birthmarks almost always appear on the scalp, face, or neck, and while they’re permanent, the appearance often changes at different stages of life. In newborns, the nevus sebaceous is most often noticed because it’s a raised, hairless spot on the scalp. In the teen years, the birthmark may change in color and texture.
White spots develop when an area of skin has less pigmentation (color) than the natural skin tone. These birthmarks can be flat or raised off the skin’s surface. Most disappear in time as the baby grows and the skin tone evens out.
Venous malformations form when veins are enlarged or tangled, a child may develop a birthmark that appears like a blue or purple spot on the skin. These spots may get larger during activity as the blood flows. This type of birthmark is indicative of a more serious problem, and it will need to be treated with sclerotherapy or surgery to improve circulation and decrease discomfort.
It’s understandable that when a rapidly growing and changing spot appears on your child’s body you would be concerned, but most birthmarks are completely harmless and require no treatment from a medical standpoint. However, certain types of birthmarks are indicative of something more serious going on inside the body, so it’s always best to have birthmarks checked by a dermatologist. This will set your mind at ease and ensure that you know right away if the birthmark needs medical treatment.
When a dermatologist examines an infant’s birthmark, they will note the type of birthmark, the location on the body, the size of the birthmark, and any other findings that suggest the birthmark is associated with a more widespread condition. If your infant or young child has numerous birthmarks or shows signs of venous malformations and other concerns, the dermatologist may recommend more advanced testing, including bloodwork, x-rays, and CT scans, to rule out potential whole-body health issues that may be indicated by these clusters of birthmarks.
Treatment recommendations will vary based on the type of birthmark. Typically, your dermatologist will make one of the following recommendations:
*Results may vary by individual