Birthmarks are colored spots on the skin that babies are born with or develop shortly after birth. These marks can be bright red, pink, brown, tan, or bluish. Birthmarks can be flat on the surface of the skin or raised.
The most common types of birthmarks include:
- Café-au-lait spots—light tan colored spots on the body
- Hemangiomas—flat or slightly raised birthmarks that are bright red or bluish in color; often found on the face, head, and neck
- Macular stain—pinkish or light red birthmarks that are sometimes referred to as "angel's kisses" or "stork bites"; common on the back of the head and neck
- Moles—dark brown or black spots
- Mongolian spots—flat birthmarks on the surface of the skin that have a blue-gray color; often located on the buttocks or the base of the spine
- Port-wine stains—pink, red, or purple colored blotches on the skin; often found on the face, neck, arms, or legs
- Congenital nevus—a dark, textured mole that may be covered in hair; often found on the abdomen and thighs
The exact cause of birthmarks is unknown.
Birthmarks are more common in females and in premature babies. They are often more common among people of Asian, African, Native American, and Hispanic descent.
Birthmarks may cause:
- Changes in the color of the skin—lighter or darker than usual
- Lumps or swelling on the skin
- Changes in texture of the skin
- New lesions on the skin
- May differ in size and appearance
- Are most likely present at birth or appear in the first few weeks or months of life
- Are commonly found on the face and neck
Most of these birthmarks are harmless. However, hemangiomas and port-wine stains may produce some complications.
On rare occasions, moles can become cancerous. Any suspicious, colored lesion should be examined by a physician and closely observed or removed.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Birthmarks are usually diagnosed based on the appearance of the skin area. If there is any question of the diagnosis, a biopsy may be taken and tested. You may also be referred to a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in skin disorders.
Most birthmarks can and should be left alone. Treatment is generally recommended if the birthmark is:
- Cosmetically undesirable and unlikely to resolve on its own
- Causing discomfort or complications
- Has the potential to develop into a more serious condition (rare)
Treatment options include the following:
- Corticosteroids—A type of anti-inflammatory medication that can be given orally or by injection
- Laser therapy—Lasers can be used to prevent the growth of hemangiomas and to remove hemangiomas and port-wine stains
- Surgery—May be used to remove a colored lesion or to remove scars that remain from other treatments
- Cosmetic alternatives—There are many makeup products that effectively cover up birthmarks. These are sometimes referred to as corrective cosmetics.
Regular check-ups with your doctor or dermatologist are important for lesions undergoing treatment or observation.
Birthmarks cannot be prevented.
American Academy of Dermatology
Vascular Birthmarks Foundation
Canadian Dermatology Association
Birthmarks. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/body/birthmarks.html. Updated April 2013. Accessed June 4, 2015.
Guttman C. Clinical, molecular features aid worrisome birthmark recognition. Dermatology Times. 2005;26(4):66-67.
Hemangioma information. Vascular Birthmark Foundation website. Available at: http://www.birthmark.org/node/24. Accessed June 4, 2015.
Hemangioma in infants. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 22, 2014. Accessed June 4, 2015.
Why people get birthmarks. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/for-kids/about-skin/birthmarks/why-people-get-birthmarks. Accessed June 4, 2015.
Last reviewed June 2015 by Fabienne Daguilh, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.