Birthmarks are a common form of discolouration which appear at birth and, in most cases, are permanent unless treated. While the majority of birthmarks are harmless even if left untreated, most people choose to have them lightened or removed, especially if they are large in size, or a highly visible area of the body. Birthmarks can not only vary in size but colouration too, appearing as either brown, red, purple or pink patches on the skin.
While researches do not yet have a concrete answer for what causes birthmarks, the most common theory is that the chance of developing them is greatly increased by the production of certain proteins in the placenta during the pregnancy.
Different Types of Birthmarks
While all birthmarks will generally appear at birth, they do not all form in the same way with different types varying in appearance and characteristics.
Haemangiomas, which are also known as strawberry marks, appear as raised mole-like marks and are red or pink in appearance with a pitted look, hence their name. Affecting around 5% of newborns, this common type of birthmark often fades on its own during childhood, although occasionally they will require some treatment.
This type of birthmark occurs as a collection of abnormally formed blood vessels, giving it its distinct, port-wine coloured appearance. While they can appear anywhere on the body, port-wine stains most commonly appear on the face, back, and chest area. Like other birthmarks, they are permanent and can even become more prominent with age. They do not require treatment but because of their size and the highly visible areas they form in, they can be upset to the affected individual and affect their quality of life to the point where they seek professional help.
As the name implies, café-au-lait spots are flat and coffee-coloured patches. One or two of these marks are harmless. However, if a child has more than six café-au-lait spots before they reach the age of five, it could be a sign that they have a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis.
Salmon patches are the most commonly occurring type of birthmark in newborns. These red or pink birthmarks will often appear on the baby’s eyelids, head or neck after they are born. The majority of salmon patches will fade on their own after a few months, although they could take years to disappear altogether.
How to Get Rid of Birthmarks
When it comes to birthmark removal, the safest and most effective option is to go to a skin clinic and seek expert advice. Currently, the most effective in-clinic treatment for any suitable pigmented birthmarks is the use of a laser.
A laser treatment works by aiming a narrow beam of light at the birthmark. This light specifically targets the red colour of the blood vessels which absorb the light along with the heat produced by the lasers. This process destroys the blood vessels which are then cleared away by the body’s immune system. The more blood vessels the laser treatment destroys in the affected area, the lighter the birthmark will become, eventually fading away altogether. Because of how targeted laser treatments are, you will likely need several appointments to see a significant change, especially if you have a large or highly-pigmented birthmark.
IPL can also be used to dramatically reduce the appearance of both pigmented and vascular birthmarks. In the case of pigmented birthmarks, the treatment targets the pigment itself which absorbs the light and converts it into heat. This heat then fragments the pigmented cells which are then naturally removed by the body. In the case of vascular birthmarks, IPL works much in the same way as a laser treatment would, heating the blood cells until these collapse and are broken down by the body.