Contrary to their name, birthmarks aren’t always present at birth. A birthmark is just as what it sounds like: a mark that’s on your skin when you’re born. Actually, though, some birthmarks develop later in life. They can occur anywhere on your face or body. Birthmarks come in different shapes, sizes and colors. Some are so little and pale that you might not even notice them. Most people have at least a few of these.
Other birthmarks are bigger and are purple, red, or black. You might notice these more, especially if they are on someone’s face. These large birthmarks might cause embarrassment for some kids. But other kids don’t bother at all. Usually a big birthmark doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong, though.
However, some kids just happen to have them. Birthmarks usually don’t hurt. No one really knows what causes them. Some go away on their own, and others might stick around your whole life. If you have a birthmark that bothers you, talk to your mom or dad about it. You can ask them to take you to a skin doctor (dermatologist). The skin doctor can talk to you about your birthmark and decide if it needs treatment or if you should just leave it alone.
What causes birthmarks?
What are the different kinds of birthmarks?
There are two main types of birthmarks: pigmented birthmarks and vascular birthmarks.
These types of birthmarks happen when you have more pigment in one part of your skin. It’s like a spot on your skin. The types of pigmented birthmarks are:
If you are born with a mole, it is considered a birthmark. People often call these birthmarks “beauty marks.” But not all moles are birthmarks. Moles usually are small, round brown spots (no bigger than about the size of a pencil eraser), but they sometimes can be larger and can be different colors. They can be pink, skin-colored or black. Some are flat and smooth; others are above the skin like a slight bump. Some moles go away, but you also might get more moles on your body as you get older. If you notice a mole that itches or bleeds, or if it looks a lot different than your other moles, ask your parents to take you to the doctor. It is important to have it checked out and make sure it’s OK.
Cafe-au-lait (pronounced cafay oh lay) is French for “coffee with milk,” which is the color of these spots, kind of light brown, when they’re on light skin. On dark skin they can be the color of black coffee. They can be small or big and often are oval-shaped. The spots might fade as you get older, but they probably won’t go away totally.
These types of spots are kind of gray-blue. They mostly turn up on the backs or bottoms of babies with darker skin. They can look like bruises. Sometimes they fade away, but sometimes they don’t.
Your heart and blood vessels — the little highways that move blood through your body — are your vascular system. Sometimes a bunch of extra blood vessels will clump together, and you can see this clump in your skin. This is called a vascular birthmark. More than one in 10 babies has this type of birthmark. The different kinds are:
These marks are flat and kind of pink or red (like salmon). If you get them on your face, people call them “angel’s kisses.” If you get them on the back of your neck, they’re called “stork bites” (red spots that look like bite marks — they’re not, of course). Sometimes they fade away, but sometimes they don’t.
These birthmarks are usually harmless. There are two types: the kind that shows up on top of your skin and the kind that is deep in your skin. The ones on top are called strawberry hemangiomas because they’re bright red and look like the fruit. Deep hemangiomas are bluish-purple and make the skin swell and bulge. This kind shows up after a baby is born. For the first year, both types can get bigger and bigger, which can look a little scary to parents. The good news is they usually start shrinking. Most hemangiomas become flat by age 10, and many become flat even earlier. They can leave a light mark behind.
Port wine stains
These marks often show up on the face, and they’re the color of wine or grape juice: pink, red or purple. They don’t go away on their own and can get bigger as wine stain on a child’s face and ear.
Treatment for birthmarks
A significant number of birthmarks fade away without any need for treatment. However, if it causes health problems such as skin cancer, or if the patient feels strongly about getting rid of it, the doctor may recommend treatment.
Treatment can sometimes be painful but does not always work. Unless the birthmark is causing problems with sight, feeding, hearing, or breathing, weigh the potential problems with the expected benefits.
Treatment options depend on several factors, including the location and severity of the birthmark. However, it is important to understand there’s no treatment for all birthmarks. Treatment includes the following measures:
- Corticosteroids: can be injected directly into the birthmark such as hemangioma or taken orally, to either stop it from growing or to shrink it
- Interferon alfa-12: if the costocosteroid does not work, to shrink or stop the birthmark from growing.
- Laser therapy: commonly used for port wine stains and other birthmarks that are close to the skin’s surface.
- Surgery: if other therapies fails and the birthmark is causing a medical problem. These include very deep hemangiomas which might damage the healthy tissue surrounding them.
Helping Kids Deal With Birthmarks
It can be a shock at first to see a birthmark on your newborn. Nobody is perfect, yet many people have an image of a perfect baby in their heads. If the birthmark is clearly visible, people might ask questions or stare, which can feel rude. It helps to have a simple explanation ready to handle intrusions like this. Most people mean no harm, but it’s also OK to let them know if they’ve gone too far.
Even at a young age, kids watch how their parents respond to situations like this. This is where they learn how to cope with others’ reactions. Talking simply and openly about a birthmark with kids makes them more likely to accept one as just another part of themselves, like hair color. And practice simple answers they can use when asked about it: “It’s just a birthmark. I was born with it.” It’s also important emotionally for kids to be around supportive family and friends who treat them normally.