A birthmark is a discolored patch or spot of skin that’s present at birth or develops shortly after. The color can vary according to the origin of the tissue. Pigment cells vary from brown, black, bluish to blue-gray while vascular defects are varying shades of red to blue. There is also a third type called epidermal nevi which may be yellowish or skin coloredCommon types of birthmarks include:
Moles: Moles are one of the most common benign skin growths. They are usually brown or black in color and can appear anywhere on the body. Although moles usually start out flat, they may grow rounder and thicker over time. Small congential moles have a very small risk of developing into melanomas whereas the giant lesions are much more risky.
Hemangiomas (Strawberry marks): Another type of birthmark is the hemangioma, often called a “strawberry mark”. They are red in color hence their name. Most resolve without any intervention. However, they tend to grow very rapidly, which can make them a cause for concern. They pose a problem if they grow to obstruct vision or an airway. Port wine wine stains are another type which start off flat, and become darker and bumpy over time.
Epidermal nevi: A special type is called nevus sebaceous which is commonly an oval shaped yellowish small hairless patch on the scalp. They become less obvious in childhood and then thicken after puberty. They always remain hairless and have a small chance of developing low-grade skin cancer in adulthood. They are best removed. There are very rare large epidermal nevi, which may be associated with other underlying defects.
Café au lait spots: Café au lait spots are irregularly shaped birthmarks that are light tan in color. They are can appear anywhere on the body and do not pose any specific health risk.
Mongolian spots: A mongolian spot looks like a bruise due to its bluish color.They are most commonly found over the lower back or buttocks. Mongolian spots do not evolve into cancer, but they are more frequently found on people with darker skin.
Although most birthmarks are generally harmless, some have a very small potential to become cancerous. Generally, risk corresponds to the size of the pigmented mole: the larger the area, the higher the risk. Regular self-exams are encouraged and an annual assessment by a qualified physician is recommended to monitor changes. If any changes are noticed in terms of size, color, shape, bleeding or itching, consult with a dermatologist to determine if the birthmark is precancerous.
Birthmarks (such as moles) occur when pigmented skin cells grow in a cluster, instead of spreading out. Hemangiomas occur when extra blood vessels condense in a specific area. Contrary to popular belief, some birthmarks may appear after birth.
Certain birthmarks may be sensitive and easily irritated, so it is advisable to use skincare products designed for sensitive skin. Use gentle cleansers and toners to keep your skin clean and clear. Try to avoid astringents that contain alcohol, which can dry out the skin. Make sure to keep the skin adequately hydrated by using a moisturizing cream daily. Look for products that are fragrance and allergen-free to minimize the chances of irritation. Avoid wearing jewelry or constricting clothing that may rub up against or scratch birthmarks.
There are no known factors to avoid birthmarks. General sun protection measures are encouraged for all birthmarks, especially for pigmented lesions.
Limit sun exposure: Reducing your time in the sun is perhaps the easiest way to avoid damage to your skin caused by UV rays. When outdoors, set a time limit and seek shade when necessary. Also keep in mind that UV radiation is the strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Use Sunscreen: Sunscreens are an essential part of protection against the sun. Look for sunscreens that are labeled “Broad Spectrum”. They are often the most effective and offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Make sure to apply generously and frequently.
Cover and protect: Wrap-around sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats and clothing that covers your arms and legs, can offer extra protection against the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Look for any changes in your skin: If any changes in existing birthmarks, or if new skin growths are noticed, consult with a dermatologist to determine if the symptoms may be precancerous.
To treat hemangioma birthmarks, a doctor may prescribe corticosteroids, which can prevent them from enlarging.
Birthmarks that have become enlarged can be removed by medical procedures such as cryotherapy, laser therapy and surgical excision.There has been a revolutionary development for fast growing hemangiomas that have a functional impact. A medication called a beta-blocker (propranolol) that has been used for many years to control blood pressure, and has been shown to dramatically shrink hemangiomas. Topical beta blockers have also been found to be helpful.