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Connecting the Dots: Birthmarks

Connecting the Dots: Birthmarks

What are birthmarks?
Why do some people have birthmarks while others don't?
What are the different types of birthmarks?
Can I make my birthmark disappear?
Anything else I should know about birthmarks?

What are birthmarks?
A birthmark is a mark on the skin that is already there when you are born, or one that shows up shortly after birth. If you watch TV or read magazines, it's easy to think that everyone in the world has perfect skin. But birthmarks are very common. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors (there was a famous Russian politician who had a big purple one on his bald head!). They can be flat and brown, flesh-colored, or even purple or blue. Some are raised and bumpy or have hair growing out of them.

Most birthmarks are small and fairly unnoticeable. You might have one that's hidden by your clothes. But birthmarks can also be really big, covering large areas on your body. There's no way to hide a birthmark that big, and it can affect your self-esteem, especially if you get teased about it.

Both boys and girls have birthmarks, and most people have at least one. Most birthmarks are harmless and not very noticeable. But people who have large birthmarks or birthmarks in places that show may choose to have them removed. back to top

Why do some people have birthmarks while others don't?
Nobody knows what causes birthmarks, although the tendency to have some types of them might run in your family. No person has absolutely perfect skin on his or her whole body. Everyone has at least one dark or light splotch, freckle, or mole somewhere. back to top

What are the different types of birthmarks?
There are many types of birthmarks. Most of them cause no problems and do not need to be treated. Pigmented birthmarks, such as moles, can be tan, brown, or blue. Vascular birthmarks, such as strawberry hemangioma, are pink or red and can be flat or bumpy. Here are some common birthmarks:
  • Macular stains. These flat, pink marks are sometimes called salmon patches or stork bites (you know, from the fabled stork that delivers babies). Macular stains are found on the forehead, nose, upper lip, eyelids, or the back of the neck. You'll probably have to ask someone who was there when you were born if you had one of these birthmarks, because they usually fade by age two.
  • Hemangiomas. These marks are usually bright red (called strawberry) and can appear anywhere on the body. They usually grow over the first year of life and then start shrinking, until they go away on their own. Sometimes a faint mark is left behind after they disappear. These marks are usually harmless, but they may need treatment if they grow very quickly and cause skin problems.
  • Port-wine stains. These purple-red marks appear at birth, usually on the face, neck, arms, and legs. These marks don't change in size, but can change as a girl matures. Large port-wine stains on the arms and legs can be related to growth disorders. Port-wine stains and other large birthmarks can cause social and emotional problems. Other kids may stare or tease a person who has a birthmark on her face. Unfortunately, they do not fade or go away by themselves.
There are other types of birthmarks, too, although they are not as common. Some of them cause little blue spots on your bottom or large moles that occur in clusters or grow hair. Any type of large birthmark may need treatment if it is causing skin or other problems. People who have large birthmarks may also need emotional support to help them deal with it. Problems with how you look and teasing by others can hurt your self-esteem. back to top

Can I make my birthmark disappear?
Some birthmarks, such as port-wine stains, can be hidden with makeup. Special cover-up creams are available to help hide birthmarks. Talk to your health professional about where to get them.

Some vascular birthmarks can be removed (or lightened) with laser treatments. Pigmented birthmarks can be removed surgically, if necessary. These treatments for birthmarks must be done by a health professional. Usually they are only used for birthmarks that are causing health problems or emotional or physical discomfort.

Small moles, especially those on the face, may be able to be removed in a health professional's office. If your moles are very small, they may be shaved off.

Don't try to remove moles or birthmarks yourself—you could cause serious skin damage and scarring. And don't waste your money on bleaching creams. They just don't work on birthmarks. If you have a birthmark that embarrasses you, talk to an adult you trust and see a health professional to discuss treatment options. Get counseling or join a support group where you can talk to other people who have birthmarks. back to top

Anything else I should know about birthmarks?
To keep freckles, moles, and birthmarks from getting larger and darker, be sure to protect yourself from the sun. If you have a mole or other skin mark that suddenly grows larger, changes shape, or turns colors, tell a health professional. Most birthmarks are harmless, but new moles or moles that change could be signs of skin cancer. back to top

Last Modified Date: 2/28/2001
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