Birthmarks appear when a baby is born or soon after birth. They are called birthmarks because they appear at or close to birth. If you see a mark on your skin that wasn’t there before, it’s most likely a mole and not a birthmark. Many people consider birthmarks as beauty marks that can add uniqueness and character to a person’s looks. But what, exactly, is a birthmark, and how to you get one? Here is a quick primer on what birthmarks are and what causes them.
There are two categories of birthmarks: pigmented and vascular.
Pigmented birthmarks occur when certain parts of the body contains more pigment (or color) than other parts. Here are the different types of pigmented birthmarks:
- Moles – Moles are typically small and round spots that can be brown, pink, flesh-toned, or black. Moles can be flat to the touch or raised to form a slight bump on the skin.
- Café-au-lait spots are brown or black in color, flat and smooth in texture, and often take an oval shape. The size of café-au-lait birthmarks range from small to large.
- Mongolian spots are blue, green, or gray in color and are typical in babies with darker skin tones.
Vascular birthmarks – Vascular birthmarks occur when blood vessels form close together and are visible on the skin. While pigment birthmarks are more common, about one in ten babies are born with vascular birthmarks. Here are a few different types of vascular birthmarks.
- Salmon patches appear in red or pink patches on the skin. Salmon patch birthmarks can get lighter and eventually disappear over time or they can stay permanently.
- Hemangiomas are typically bright red or purple. They have a textured and lumpy appearance which can look a little alarming. Many hemangiomas birthmarks are actually harmless. Over time, hemangiomas birthmarks get smaller and eventually become flat (although they may grow initially).
- Port wine stains occurs in shades of pink, red, or purple (like “wine”); unlike most other types of birthmarks, they are typically permanent.
What Causes Birthmarks?
While the exact cause of each type of birthmark is unknown, doctors have some ideas on what causes them.
- Blood Vessels – Vascular birthmarks are caused by blood vessels that do not form the way they are supposed to and end up developing close together. A cluster of blood vessels forms and becomes a vascular birthmark when it goes through the top layers of the skin.
- Extra Pigment – Pigmented birthmarks occur when there are higher amounts of pigment in certain areas of the skin. The area where the birthmark is just happens to have more pigment than the rest of the skin surrounding it, causing the birthmark to be prevalent against the rest of the lighter toned skin.
- Hereditary – Some people have birthmarks due to their genes. For example, a child may have the same type of birthmark as a father, mother, grandparent, aunt, or uncle. In some cases, the birthmark appears in the exact same spot as the relative!
When to see a doctor
While birthmarks are generally harmless to a person’s health, keep a lookout for any physical changes to them. If you notice bleeding from a birthmark, changes in color, or growth in size or shape, talk to dermatologist. While it may be harmless, it’s a good idea to get examined for any health conditions associated with the change in your birthmarks.
Dr. Ana M. Duarte and her staff at the Children’s Skin Center are South Florida’s premier pediatric and adult dermatology practice. With offices in Miami (Nicklaus Children’s Hospital main campus), Coral Gables, Doral, Miami Lakes, Miramar, Kendall, Pinecrest, and Palm Beach Gardens, getting kid-friendly dermatology care with a board-certified dermatologist has never been easier or more convenient. Call (305) 669-6555 or use the secure online form to schedule your appointment today.