It is very common for a person to have a pigmented mark on their body that has been present since birth. Birthmarks naturally vary significantly in size, depth, shape and colour. Here at the London Dermatology Centre we recognise that these marks can cause embarrassment and distress and that for some, removing or reducing the appearance of these marks may be the best option.
There are a wide variety of birthmarks, some of which are responsive to treatment with either laser or intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy. There are two main categories of birthmarks: vascular and pigmented in origin. A small number of birthmarks are associated with more serious medical conditions, requiring investigation. An initial consultation with a dermatologist is required to determine the type of birthmark you have, at which time treatment options can be discussed. At our London-based clinic, our team of accredited specialists will discuss your needs and find the best treatment option for you.
These birthmarks are usually red in colour and are caused by a malformation of blood vessels. This means that they appear when the blood vessels beneath the skin are either too wide, too narrow or too numerous. There are several types of vascular birthmark (see below) which present with different visual characteristics.
Macular stains (also called salmon patches) are the most common type of vascular birthmark. These are pale red marks which typically fade during early childhood, although they can remain into adulthood. These are most commonly found on the back of the neck, eyelids and forehead. These patches can become more noticeable when a baby cries. Since these birthmarks are harmless with a faint appearance they usually require no treatment.
Infantile haemangiomas (also called strawberry naevi) can be present above or below the skin’s surface anywhere on the body. Superficial infantile haemangiomas usually appear as raised marks on the skin which are bright red, while deep infantile haemangiomas may be more bluish in colour. These infantile haemangiomas are not hereditary and are not a sign of ill health. Laser birthmark removal can be effective for treating infantile haemangiomas.
Port wine stains usually appear on the extremities, neck or face and have a red, pink or purplish colour. These stains can start off large or small and tend to grow as the body develops and can vary between a few millimetres to several centimetres in size. In adulthood, they can also darken, thicken and become bumpy in texture. Port wine stains can affect a person’s self-esteem and can even have a significant psychological impact. These birthmarks will not fade without treatment and are sometimes associated with increased pressure in the eye (glaucoma) and/or seizures when located on the face. Laser treatment can be an effective method in reducing the appearance of port wine stains. It works to destroy the blood vessels with minimal damage to the surrounding skin. Another option is cosmetic camouflage.
Nevus of Ota have a blue-black colour and, like port wine stains, are sometimes associated with eye disorders. These birthmarks are usually found on the forehead and around the eye. Around half of these naevi are present from birth while the other half begin to develop during puberty. People of Asian descent are more likely to bear these birthmarks. Laser treatment can remove or dramatically reduce the colouration of these marks. Another option is cosmetic camouflage.
Pigmented birthmarks are caused by an excess of the pigment melanin and are usually brown in colour. There are different types which manifest with different marks.
Mongolian spots are blue-black spots that usually appear on darker skinned children of African, Asian, Hispanic, American Indian or Southern European descent. These birthmarks are often mistaken for bruises but unlike a bruise, can last for months to years. Mongolian spots are often a few centimetres in diameter but can be larger. They occur on the lower back and buttocks and usually disappear spontaneously within four years, although they can persist.
Café au lait spots are coffee coloured areas of skin. These light- to dark-brown marks can appear on any part of the body. These marks can multiply with age and vary in size. Having six or more of these spots by the time a child is 5 years old warrants further investigation. These spots can be a sign of a more serious medical condition called neurofibromatosis and should be assessed by a dermatologist.
Moles that are present from birth are known medically as congenital melanocytic naevi. Whereas those that appear later on in a person’s life are called acquired naevi. These common marks can be brown or black in colour and sometimes have hair growing from them. They are caused by an excess growth of pigmented cells in the skin. Very large congenital nevus can be a risk factor for developing melanoma later in life and should be regularly monitored by a doctor.
The majority of birthmarks are harmless and do not require treatment. However, for those that are unsightly or causing embarrassment or distress, there are treatments available to reduce their appearance. It is not always possible to completely remove a birthmark, but many people can benefit from treatment to lighten a birthmark or reduce their appearance. The best removal method to use will depend on the type, size and location of the mark, among other factors. Sometimes, birthmarks may need to be treated for medical reasons such as glaucoma.
Here at the London Dermatology Centre, our doctors will evaluate your birthmark and provide you with clear treatment options. We offer the latest laser and IPL treatments for birthmark removal and lightening. These are specially chosen to perform well even with Asian skin which is highly sensitive to heat, reducing any risks of hyper-pigmentation. All our accredited specialists are registered with the General Medical Council or with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, ready to provide you with the highest quality of care.
For more information regarding the treatment of birthmarks please contact us on 0207 467 3720.
Content by Dr Sunil Chopra and Rebecca Perris.