Birthmarks are skin discolorations that are either present at birth or within the first month of infancy. Typically they are benign and are caused by the overgrowth of:
Patients tend to have several questions about birthmark removal, including what type of birthmark they have and how the process works. For starters, these definitive marks can be either pigmented or vascular.
Pigmented birthmarks include:
Moles are also referred to as congenital melanocyte nevus. They can be found anywhere in the body and appear smooth or raised from the skin’s surface. In dark skinned individuals, their shade is close to black. Moles appear as a lighter shade of brown in light skinned individuals.
This type of birthmark appears in 1% of U.S. born infants.
Café Au Lait Spots
As the name suggests, café au lait spots are a light brown coloration, similar to milk coffee. If they are not present at birth, they appear in early childhood and do not fade over time. The occurrence of one or two of these birthmarks is typical. However, the presence of four or more spots could be an indication of neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder where nerve tissue forms tumors on the skin surface.
Mongolian spots are benign, flat blue spots that resemble bruises to some extent. This condition is considered congenital, present before or after birth, developing further into the first month. The common name, Mongolian spots comes from the fact that these birthmarks are often found in East Asians and Turks. However, the incidence is also relatively high in East Africans and Native American individuals.
Mongolian spots are caused by melanocycte, which are cells containing melanin that reside in deep layers of the skin. During the cell migration phase of embryonic development, the melanocytes become trapped in the dermis as they travel from the neural crest (along the spine area) to the epidermis.
Examples of vascular birthmarks include:
The scientific name for stork bite is nevus flammeus nuchae. Other common names include “angel’s kiss” or “salmon bite.”
Colors appear as pink or tan. The birth mark is irregular in shape and occurs behind the neck, on the forehead, knee, eyelids and the top lip. Unlike moles which sometimes manifest as bumps, stork bites are simply patches of color with no textural changes to the skin’s surface. Interestingly, this condition occurs in nearly half of all babies.
Strawberry marks are formally known as hermangiomas. They are a benign tumorous growth caused by the swelling or growth of endothelial cells which line blood vessels. This is the most common type of tumor occurring in infants.
Usually strawberry marks appear during the initial weeks following birth and disappear by age ten.
Port Wine Stain
The Port Wine stain, or nevus flammeus, is a pink or red birthmark that is irregular in appearance. Below the surface of the birthmark, there is a lack of nerves connected to the underlying blood vessels, which dilate as a result, causing the blood to pool.
For the most part, Port Wine birthmarks are smooth. But sometimes, they develop into ridges or bumps.
This condition occurs equally among males and females, affecting about 0.3% of the general populace.
Lasers can work to altar tissue structures at precise levels so that incisions are not necessary. The light beam is capable of sealing, cutting or even vaporizing tissue and blood vessels. In the treatment of birthmarks, they can reduce the size of the blood vessels causing the abnormality.
Pulsed Dye Lasers
Pulsed Dye Lasers selectively shut off blood vessels without disturbing the surrounding areas. They are effective with Port Wine stains and hermangiomas.
Pigmented birth marks can be treated by destroying melanocytes using a technique called Q-switching where the laser beam is quickly switched on and off. Examples of q-switch lasers include:
– Alexandrite laser
– Nd: YAG laser
Dr. Umar offers the V-Beam Perfecta laser at his skin clinic in Los Angeles. In most instances, Los Angeles birthmark removal can be accomplished if the birthmark is vascular in origin.:
The V-Beam operates through “micro-pulse technology” which gently heats the blood vessels to eradicate their visibility on the skin.
Usually a series of laser treatments is required to completely remove birthmarks. Most patients opt for these procedures simply for aesthetic reasons. Some forms of congenital skin discolorations may actually be precursors to more serious conditions. It’s important to seek the advice of a medical professional for confirmation and recommendations for further treatment.
Read more here about the related subject of mole removal.