What to Look for in Birthmarks

Birthmarks are formed on the skin in children and infants typically appearing at birth. There are various types and there is no specific size or shape that characterizes them. They could vary from tiny to huge in size or irregular to round in shape. This can make it rather puzzling to know what to look for in birthmarks. As with any skin condition in infants and children, it’s advisable to be aware of any concerns you should bring to your doctor.


Most are harmless and disappear with time, although there are specific types of birthmarks that have been associated with health problems. Should you discover one that appears unusual it’s important to have it seen by dermatologist as soon as possible. So, how do we differentiate between the ones that are trouble and the ones that are not?

The cause of most of the birthmarks is largely unknown. They just happen! Some birthmarks have been found to be hereditary, with kids born with a birthmark much like someone in the family.

Types of birthmarks

There are two common types of birthmarks: vascular and pigmented.

Vascular birthmarks

beautiful-baby-girl-stork-bite-upper-lip-250749Vascular birthmarks mainly result from irregular formation of blood vessels under the skin. They are usually characterized by discoloration of the outer skin. There are three major subtypes of Vascular birthmarks.

Salmon Patch: Most commonly referred to as the “Angel Kiss” or ‘Stork Bite’ when it appears on the face, this is one of the most common birthmarks found in newborns. Salmon patches usually appear like a flat pink or reddish patch. They often disappear in children within their first year or so. No medical treatment is usually required for Salmon patches as they are considered harmless.

cute-baby-girl-hemangioma-her-arm-48756604Strawberry Hemangioma: As suggested by the name, ‘strawberry’ colored bright red spots usually indicate hemangiomas. They are usually small in size and soft in nature, although in some instances they can be very large and raised. They typically appear on the face, scalp or back. The spots are a result of a bunch of blood vessels that become closely packed during formation. These spots may not appear at birth, rather they begin to appear within a few weeks from birth and may last for several years. It is advised to consult a dermatologist to make sure there are no further complications.

Port-Wine Stain: Named for the deep red color characteristics, this type of birthmark is usually permanent in nature. The stained area is usually seen growing in size relative to the general growth of the child as they age. These stains usually appear on the face or neck and appear as flat stains that literally look like a splash of red wine. They have been widely proven harmless, unless you see these near the eyelids or eyes. In such cases, medical advice is recommended as it could be an indication of Sturge-Weber Syndrome.

Pigmented Birthmarks pigmented birthmark

Pigmented birthmarks are mainly caused by overgrowth of the cells that create pigment in the skin. These are usually characterized by an excessive amount of melanin (the substance responsible for skin color) at one specific region of the skin. There are three major subtypes for pigmented birthmarks.

Mongolian Spots: Usually seen as a flat mark, Mongolian spots are congenital birthmarks that are often irregular in shape. They might be bluish grey in color and often found on the lower back of older children around 3-5 years old. These spots may appear scary-looking but they usually fade away within a few years and are harmless.

Café-Au-Lait Spots: Marked by a flat and smooth appearance Café-au-lait spots are usually light brown in color, which explains the French coffee name that it’s referred with. These spots have been found to be caused by a collection of Melanin on the epidermis of the skin similarly to Mongolian spots. They are also permanent and it is not uncommon for multiple spots to appear.

Café-au-lait spots are considered harmless in most cases, but if you notice more than 6 spots that are larger than 3cm in diameter, bring awareness of it to your child’s pediatrician. It could be related to Neurofibromatosis Type I, which is a tumor disorder often associated with gene mutation.

mobile pics 8.8.2015 039Moles: Moles usually appear when cells in the skin start to grow as a cluster rather than spreading out over the skin. They are usually brown or black in color and can appear anywhere on the skin. Most types moles appear early during childhood.

There are 2 types of moles: Congenital Nevi and Dysplastic Nevi. While Congenital Nevi appears in infants at birth, the Dysplastic Nevi is something that usually appears later in childhood and is irregular in shape and large in size. Both have risks of leading to Melanoma (Skin cancer) later in life. Usually the risk is considered to be higher when the mole is bigger in size and irregular in shape. In any case, it is very important to apply sunscreen during any length of exposure to the sun as UV rays can be damaging and further increase risk.

melanoma-images Most moles are often found to be harmless but it’s important to take note of any changes in color, size or shape. If they are bigger than the size of a typical pencil eraser, having blurry irregular borders then it is best advised to contact a dermatologist.

Treatment of Birthmarks
Most vascular birthmarks are not treated as they tend to disappear eventually on their own and are harmless. Hemangiomas should be checked with doctors to be sure there are no further complications that may be associated with them, otherwise further treatment is not typically required.

Port Wine Stains which are often the most prominent of the three vascular types and can be treated with lasers for cosmetic purposes. Stains might still re-appear after a few years requiring subsequent treatments. Again, the purpose of laser treatment is primarily for cosmetic purposes in children that may have very noticeable stains.

There are some risks to these laser treatments and the general recommendation is to leave these spots untouched if they are not too big and prominent. If you decide to go ahead with a laser treatment, it is advised to consult a dermatologist and understand the risks before going through a procedure.

Moles are commonly treated rather than birthmarks, especially when they are large. Usually treatments include minor surgical procedures and it is recommended, if treatment is necessary in children, to have them removed sooner rather than later.

Some birthmarks can often appear concerning to parents when they are largely conspicuous. While most are usually harmless and don’t require any special treatment, it’s important to know what to look for in birthmarks to bring attention to your doctor.

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