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May 11, 2016

Can you have birthmarks removed?

A birthmark can be a subtle distinguishing feature or an obvious, unwelcome imperfection. If your child has a birthmark, you may have many questions. Where do they come from? Are they harmful? Will they fade? Is treatment required? Here is an overview of the most common birthmarks.

Strawberry marks (capillary hemangiomas)

Strawberry marks occur when blood vessels below the surface of the skin grow too quickly. They are often absent at birth or a pale, almost invisible pink. During the first six months, they grow and thicken rapidly, but then stop developing. They are so called because their bright red and protruding appearance is reminiscent of a berry.

While their appearance and fast-paced growth may be disconcerting, strawberry marks usually begin to fade and recede by 18 months of age. By age 6, they have usually completely disappeared. Treatment is generally not required, unless the size and location of the lesion compromise vital functions, such as vision. The prescription drug propranolol is an effective treatment for this type of birthmark.

Port-wine stains (flat hemangiomas) 

Maroon, red or purplish, port-wine stains are due to a malformation of capillary vessels. They develop on the surface of the skin, sometimes growing for years. They do not fade over time.

While benign, they should still be examined by a doctor if they are located near the eyes. Their impact is mostly cosmetic and, in some cases, psychological. Laser treatment can then be used to minimize their appearance.  

Salmon patches (nevi simplex)

Salmon patches, which are due to dilated blood vessels, are common, harmless and do not require treatment. They are visible at birth and have different names based on their location. For instance, an “angel kiss” is located on the forehead between the eyes, while a “stork bite” can be found on the back of the neck. 

In the majority of cases, these birthmarks will recede on their own and disappear by age 3. In some instances, however, they can remain visible right into adulthood. 

Mongolian spots (bluish, green or black) 

These spots, which can look like bruises, are usually found on the lower back of a newborn, sometimes near the shoulders, or on the back of the hand, forearm or foot. They often fade by age 2 or 3 but can sometimes last into adulthood. 

Mongolian spots are caused by a high concentration of melanin. They are more common in babies of African, Asian, Native American or Hispanic origin. Caucasian newborns of mixed descent can also develop this type of birthmark.

Café-au-lait spots

These flat, oval or irregular-shaped patches of skin are a relatively frequent occurrence. They have an even colour that is approximately twice as dark as the rest of the skin due to excess melanin. Often present at birth, they can also develop during a baby’s first year of life. 

Café-au-lait spots can change colour when exposed to the sun, but are completely harmless. No treatment is medically required, but can be considered for cosmetic reasons.  High-coverage foundation can be a useful solution to camouflage the birthmark. In addition, laser treatment can sometimes be used, but there is no guarantee that the mark will be completely eliminated. 

Generally speaking, the number of spots will vary from one to three. Someone who has more than six spots measuring 5 mm or more should seek medical attention, since this could indicate a genetic disorder. 

Treatments

Treatment options for the removal of birthmarks vary based on the type of mark and include: 

•    Prescription drugs (e.g.,  corticoids, betablockers)
•    Cryosurgery
•    Surgery
•    Laser

The goal of these interventions is to keep the birthmarks from hindering vital functions, minimize their appearance and limit any related psychological impact. To learn more, speak with your healthcare professional. 

Pharmacy services

Do you have questions on the health of your newborn, proper infant skin care  and infant skin disorders? Speak with your family pharmacists. They’re here to help!