In the past, birthmarks — moles, colored patches, and other marks on the skin that are present at birth — were said to be the result of something a baby’s mother ate or did while she was pregnant. There’s no truth to this old wives’ tale.
In fact, there’s nothing we can do to prevent birthmarks from forming, and these typically harmless marks often disappear on their own as a child gets older. If you or your child has a birthmark that bothers you, it may be possible to get it removed. To understand your options, it helps to be able to differentiate between the different types of birthmarks.
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Types of Birthmarks
Most birthmarks fall into one of two categories: pigmented (usually shades of brown in color) and vascular (red or purple-colored).
These birthmarks occur when you have more color, or pigment, in one area of the skin. Pigmented marks include:
- Moles. Birthmarks that you are born with (as opposed to those that develop as you age).
- Café au lait spots. French for “coffee with milk,” these light-brown patches may fade as you get older but don’t usually disappear completely.
- Mongolian spots. These grayish-blue spots can look like bruises, particularly on darker skin, and tend to appear on the back and buttocks. They may or may not fade over time.
Red (vascular) marks
These birthmarks are caused by small clumps of blood vessels in the skin. They include:
- Salmon patches. Flat, pinkish-red patches on the face or neck that are sometimes colloquially called “angel kisses” or “stork bites”.
- Hemangiomas. When these birthmarks occur on the skin, they’re called strawberry hemangiomas because they are bright red and can resemble this fruit. When they form under the skin, they tend to develop as a child ages and can appear dark blue. Hemangiomas typically shrink over time. These types of marks can sometimes affect the deeper structures of the skin, so it’s important to have these evaluated by your pediatrician or dermatologist.
- Port wine stains. These pink, red, or purple marks often appear on the face, trunk and extremities. They don’t go away as a child ages — in fact, they tend to get bigger or may develop nodules within them.
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Birthmark Treatment Options
Your pediatrician will evaluate any birthmarks after your child’s birth. In general, pigmented birthmarks usually aren’t treated, but vascular marks — with the exception of salmon patches — can often be treated or removed.
Lasers are typically used to treat port wine stains, while certain medications can treat large hemangiomas. Be sure to contact your doctor if a birthmark bleeds, hurts, itches, or becomes infected, or if a mole changes in color, size, or shape.
The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and non-surgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is the most comprehensive dermatologic laser facility in the region. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond.