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Birthmarks

Definition

Birthmarks are colored spots on the skin that babies are born with or develop shortly after birth. These marks can be bright red, pink, brown, tan, or bluish. Birthmarks can be flat on the surface of the skin or raised.

Mole
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Causes

The exact cause of birthmarks is unknown. However, some birthmarks can be genetic or associated with a disease.

Risk Factors

Moles are common in all humans. Other birthmarks may be isolated or have different causes. For example:

  • Café-au-lait spots—may occur in people with neurofibromatosis
  • Hemangiomas—more common in females, those with light skin, and babies born prematurely
  • Mongolian spots—common in people with darker skin
  • Port-wine stains—may occur in people with Sturge-Weber or Klippel Trenaunay syndrome

Symptoms

Symptoms differ depending on the type of birthmark. Symptoms may include:

  • Café-au-lait spots—light tan colored spots on the body
  • Hemangiomas—flat or slightly raised birthmarks that are bright red or bluish in color; often found on the face, head, and neck
  • Macular stain—pinkish or light red birthmarks that are sometimes referred to as "angel's kisses" or "stork bites"; common on the back of the head and neck and above the eyes
  • Moles—dark brown or black spots
  • Mongolian spots—flat birthmarks on the surface of the skin that have a blue-gray color; often located on the buttocks or the base of the spine
  • Port-wine stains—pink, red, or purple colored blotches on the skin; often found on the face, neck, arms, or legs
  • Congenital nevus—a dark, textured mole that may be covered in hair; often found on the abdomen and thighs

On rare occasions, moles can become cancerous. Any suspicious, colored lesion should be examined by a physician and closely observed or removed.

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Birthmarks are usually diagnosed based on the appearance of the skin area. If there is any question of the diagnosis, a biopsy may be taken and tested. You may also be referred to a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in skin disorders.

Treatment

Most birthmarks can and should be left alone. Treatment is generally recommended if the birthmark is:

  • Cosmetically undesirable and unlikely to resolve on its own
  • Causing discomfort or complications
  • Has the potential to develop into a more serious condition (rare)

Treatment options depend on the type of birthmark and may include the following:

  • Medications, such as beta blockers and corticosteroids for hemangiomas
  • Laser therapy—to prevent the growth of hemangiomas and to remove hemangiomas and port-wine stains
  • Surgery—to remove a colored lesion or to remove scars that remain from other treatments
  • Cosmetic alternatives—There are many makeup products that effectively cover up birthmarks. These are sometimes referred to as corrective cosmetics.

Regular check-ups with your doctor or dermatologist are important for lesions undergoing treatment or observation.

Prevention

Birthmarks cannot be prevented.

Revision Information

  • American Academy of Dermatology

    http://www.aad.org

  • Vascular Birthmarks Foundation

    http://www.birthmark.org

  • Canadian Dermatology Association

    http://www.dermatology.ca

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Birthmarks. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/body/birthmarks.html. Updated April 2013. Accessed May 5, 2016.

  • Guttman C. Clinical, molecular features aid worrisome birthmark recognition. Dermatology Times. 2005;26(4):66-67.

  • Hemangioma information. Vascular Birthmark Foundation website. Available at: http://www.birthmark.org/node/24. Accessed May 5, 2016.

  • Hemangioma in infants. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 26, 2016. Accessed May 5, 2016.

  • Why people get birthmarks. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/for-kids/about-skin/birthmarks/why-people-get-birthmarks. Accessed May 5, 2016.