The common perception is that birthmarks are harmless. But are they? In most cases, a birthmark does not pose a health risk. However, that hinges on accurate diagnosis, as some look like other medical conditions, and even a completely benign birthmark has a psychological impact. The Board-certified dermatologists at The Menkes Clinic & Surgery Center in Mountain View, CA are often asked, “What is the best way to get rid of red birthmarks?” They share this helpful information.
Superstition and legend surround birthmarks in most cultures. Some believe it is a divine religious mark – the kiss of an angel. Other think it is a sign of luck, or a symbol of the mother’s unfulfilled wishes during pregnancy. A baby’s mother may be blamed for a birthmark as a sign of something inappropriate she did while expecting, such as eating strawberries or scratching her belly.
Fortunately, modern medical science has disproven birthmark lore. Today we know that red birthmarks are simply the result of blood vessels that do not develop correctly before or shortly after a baby is born. Too many blood vessels are concentrated in one area, they are unusually wide, or close to the surface of skin.
The most common vascular birthmarks are:
- Nevus flammeus or port wine stains. Also called fire marks, they are the color of red wine. They are present at birth or develop shortly after. Port wine stains are most common on the face and head, but can also occur on neck, arms, legs, or other parts of the body. They are usually flat but may be raised and bumpy. They grow with the child and tend to darken and thicken over time. Port wine stains do not go away on their own and can be quite disfiguring.
- Macular stains have colorful monikers such as angel kisses, stork bites, and salmon patches. Paler in color than port wine stains (though they darken when baby cries), these birthmarks are usually on the eyelids, forehead, upper lip, nose, or back of the neck or head. Macular stains are the most common form of vascular birthmark. They generally fade away by about age two, although some persist into adulthood.
- Hemangiomas are usually superficial strawberry marks. They can be raised and very bright red or appear bluish because they involve blood vessels in deep skin layers. Hemangiomas appear within several weeks of baby’s birth and grow rapidly during the first few months. While they generally shrink and disappear by grade school age, larger birthmarks of this type my leave a scar. Most hemangiomas appear on the head or neck. Removal is indicated if they interfere with sight, breathing, or feeding, or if parents simply don’t want the child to suffer the embarrassment of a visible birthmark.
Mountain View patients ask, “What is the best way to get rid of red birthmarks?” At The Menkes Clinic & Surgery Center, there is no single answer. Treatment in every case is tailored to the individual patient.
The best treatment option for red birthmarks depends primarily on the type of birthmark and the age of the patient. We generally recommend a “watch and wait” approach for macular stains, since they fade naturally. Macular stains at the back of the neck can be stubborn, but hair usually disguises them.
It is important to have hemangiomas diagnosed by a Board-certified pediatric dermatologist. These birthmarks may open, bleed, ulcerate, and cause discomfort. In addition, the condition can be linked to internal abnormalities of the spine, central nervous system, gut, liver, brain, and respiratory tract. Those that do not affect organs can be treated with topical medication.
Pulse-dye laser therapy is the treatment of choice for larger hemangiomas and port wine stains. In the hands of qualified, experienced professionals, laser treatment is safe even for young children.
More about laser birthmark removal
A laser is a device that emits a focused beam of light in a specific wavelength. Pigments in hema, the basic component of blood, absorb energy from the laser more readily than surrounding skin. This heats and destroys targeted blood vessels. The body then harmlessly eliminates treated blood vessels through the lymphatic system. Usually a series of treatments spaced several weeks apart is necessary for 75 percent to full resolution.