We all know what a birthmark is—an area of skin discoloration that is present from birth. Birthmarks are a common phenomenon, though it is not always clear why they occur. And there is no way to prevent them.
Some birthmarks are small, discreet, and cause no issues, while others can be extensive, disfiguring, and cause psychological distress. If you are a parent of a child with a prominent birthmark, then you may be wondering how it can be removed or improved. However, there is more than one type of birthmark, and treatment depends on the type and intensity of the birthmark. Here are some facts about different kinds of birthmarks, as well as some methods for treatment. The good news is that while birthmarks can be unsightly, they are usually not of any medical concern.
Two Major Types
Birthmarks come in many different shapes, sizes, colors, and shades, but there are two major types: vascular, and non-vascular. Vascular birthmarks are caused by abnormal concentrations of blood vessels beneath the skin. These marks tend to be red or purple, and are usually more severe than non-vascular birthmarks. Non-vascular birthmarks are typically brown or tan in color and are in most cases simply differences in skin pigmentation. Here, we will also take a look at some of the sub-types of birthmarks.
Cafe au Lait Spots
A common type of hyperpigmentation birthmark, these light tan spots are usually small, not prominent, and are rarely a major cosmetic or health issue.
A type of mole, these marks are usually brown and vary in size and shape. Unfortunately, moles require significant scrutiny over a lifetime, as they can become cancerous.
Slate Gray Nevus
These blue or blue/gray spots are common in children of Asian or African descent and tend to occur on the buttocks and lower back. Fortunately, this type of birthmark usually fades in a few years, requiring no treatment.
Port Wine Stains
A more serious type of birthmark, port wine stains are deep red or purple in color that start out light but often darken and get thicker with age. These abnormal vessels are occasionally linked with health issues, but regardless of the cause, they usually require treatment for any improvement to occur.
These marks are typically raised and may come in various colors and sizes. They are caused by immature blood vessels, and though they may look serious, they typically resolve over time, though they may leave a scar. However, they may need treatment if they interfere with normal functions or become ulcerated. The need for treatment varies greatly between each individual case.
An extremely common type of vascular birthmark, salmon patches are flat, and pink or red. They typically resolve on their own over time, though a few may persist into adulthood.
Unfortunately, with many types of birthmark, it is ineffective to attempt treatment. Usually, unless a birthmark is very prominent and/or disfiguring, it is best to leave the mark alone and wait to see if improvement occurs over time. As can be seen, many types of birthmarks do fade somewhat over time. Small birthmarks are usually not much of a cosmetic issue and require no treatment, even if they do not change over time.
Some of the most common birthmarks to be treated are port wine stains and hemangiomas. These vascular birthmarks are often quite prominent, causing embarrassment and other emotional ramifications. They can often be improved with laser treatments, fortunately. Pulsed dye lasers are an effective treatment, only requiring a few days of mild downtime after the procedure. Depending on the patient, no anesthesia whatsoever may be required to complete treatment. Many patients require more than one treatment for satisfactory fading of a port wine stain. These sessions are spaced a few months apart. This treatment can be performed on children and adults alike, and takes only a few minutes to complete.
Age for Treatment
While many non-vascular birthmarks tend to remain stable, vascular marks often change over time. Sometimes, this is for the better, with the marks eventually fading. However, they can also darken or get bigger as a child grows, which can make them more difficult to treat, particularly port wine stains. If they do fade, birthmarks can leave a scar after improvement. This unpredictability can put parents in a difficult position when it comes to timing treatment. Ideally, of course, a birthmark would not interfere with a child’s social life or self-esteem, but teasing and self-consciousness are possibilities, making treatment a good option in some cases. The best way to determine when the best time is to seek treatment is to get an assessment from a qualified plastic surgeon. He or she will be able to recommend a course of action and answer any specific questions about the treatment and potential changes to the birthmark.
Where to Go
If you would like to consult with an expert about your child’s birthmark, then you will want to speak with an expert who understands the issue and has a great deal of experience. If you are seeking help with a port wine stain or hemangioma, then it may be time to seek out help from a facial plastic surgeon with expertise in laser treatments, like Dr. Stuart Bentkover, of Bentkover Facial Plastic Surgery in Worcester (508-363-6500) and Stoneham (617-247-0033), MA. Dr. Bentkover is a board certified facial plastic surgeon with over 20 years of experience. He has worked with many patients to improve and reduce the appearance of port wine stains. Call either location today to schedule your consultation.