What is a birthmark?

A birthmark is a permanent mark on the skin, often congenital and does not cause physical pain. It is naturally benign and appears at birth or shortly after within days.

What are the causes of birthmarks?

Birthmarks are caused by overgrowth of blood vessels and/or melanocytes, the cell that produces the skin pigment melanin. It can also be caused due to smooth muscle fats, fibroblasts or keratinocytes overgrowth.

What are the types of Birthmarks?

Depending upon the cause, birthmarks are divided into two major types: –

Pigmented Birthmarks: – These birthmarks are caused by excess pigmented skin cells. They happen when you have more pigment in one particular part of the skin. Pigmented birthmarks include moles, café au lait spots, Mongolian spots. These birthmarks can sometimes be hereditary and even an identifying factor for a family of people.

Vascular Birthmarks (aka red birthmarks): – When a birthmark is caused by increased blood vessels, it is called a vascular birthmark. They get their name from the vascular system – the heart and blood vessels that move the blood through the body. If the extra blood vessels clump together, the clump can be visible on the skin as a coloured mark, often recognised as a birthmark. Common types of this type of birthmark include macular stains (salmon patches), hemangiomas and port wine stains. These birthmarks are not hereditary.

What is the cause of birthmarks?

There is no specific reason for the birthmarks to appear on skin. Though many explanations have been given over the years, most doctors agree on one. That these birthmarks are caused by a localized imbalance in the factors that control the development and migration of skin cells.

Pigmented Birthmarks-

  • Moles – These types of birthmark are a small round spots, usually brown or black in colour, but can vary in colour or size. Mole birthmarks are also called beauty marks and can be flat and smooth or sometimes a slight bump. If the mole is present since birth it is called a birthmark, but moles can disappear over time and even new ones can appear as you get older.
  • Café-au-lait spot – The name is derived from the French phrase for ‘coffee with milk’. That is because these spots are coloured a light brown, very obviously visible on light brown and are the colour of coffee and milk. In dark skin they can be the colour of black coffee. Sometimes they are big or small and oval shaped. They may fade over time but do not completely disappear.
  • Mongolian spot – A Mongolian spot is a congenital birthmark and it appears in all sorts of sizes and shapes. It is more common amongst people with darker skin, especially East Asians and Turks. This might probably why they are named after Mongolians. These types of birthmarks disappear over a few years or at puberty. They are usually a shade of blue, grey blue or greenish blue and can look like bruises.

Vascular Birthmarks: –

  • Salmon patch (stork bite / angel’s kiss) – They are pink, tanned, flat, irregularly shaped marks that appear on the knee, back of the neck, forehead, eyelids and the upper lip. The skin is not in any way different in texture from the surroundings but is differently coloured.
  • Strawberry hemangioma – The visible, red spots resembling a small strawberry are called hemangiomas. If the hemangiomas are deeper and are bluish purple in colour, they can make the skin swell and bulge. But no matter what the type of these hemangioma birthmarks is, they keep shrinking and also fade away with time, often becoming completely flat with the skin.
  • Port wine stains – The birthmarks are called so because they are the colour of wine or grape juice. They are not to be mistaken for hemangiomas and can range from pale pink to deep wine red. They are large and are caused by a deficiency or absence in the supply of nerves to blood vessels, causing them to dilate and the blood to pool or collect in the affected area. These birthmarks are a cause of concern because they do not fade over time and instead grow bigger. They may even develop small ridges or bumps.

Is treating them necessary?

Birthmarks are usually benign. They really aren’t harmful or painful. Some types of birthmarks, especially the pigmented birthmarks can resolve over time but the real trouble is with the vascular birthmarks that may require reduction or removal mainly due to the cosmetic reasons, and can occasionally obstruct vision or swallowing or can cause blood pressure related changes if they situated in areas concerning the above body functions.

Birthmarks may be physically harmless but depending upon their placement, they can sometimes be really embarrassing or emotionally straining. Treatment of vascular birthmarks can include a cosmetic surgery to reduce their size, shape or colour. Most cosmetic treatments are successful in reducing the depth of colour of the birthmarks while some even remove the smaller ones.

The treatment of birthmarks with dermatological lasers can cause great improvements to the colour and can match it with the surrounding skin. Dermatologic surgery is also an option sometimes.

To know more, visit:

Dr. Rinky Kapoor is a consultant cosmetologist, dermato- surgeon and dermatologist in Mumbai, India. She has won many awards for her exemplary work in the field of cosmetic medicine and has successfully treated many patients with all types of cosmetic skin troubles. Her skin treatment methods are efficient, earning her glowing testimonials from everyone who has benefitted. Dr. Kapoor is currently practicing in Mumbai, India. She is also the co founder of The Esthetic Clinics.


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