A birthmark is a sort of irregularity on the skin that is present since birth or shortly after birth. Birthmarks are very common and generally safe, but in some cases they may point to health risks.
The two main types of birthmarks are vascular birthmarks and pigmented birthmarks. As physician Viquar Mundozie explained in an interview with , vascular birthmarks are “an overgrowth of small skin blood vessels that end up giving red, pink or blue color to the skin area involved”. Also known as port wine stains, salmon patches or strawberry marks, vascular birthmarks come in various shapes and sizes, some of which have specific names.
Dark red or purple, port wine stains result from damage to the nerves that are in control of the constriction and dilation of capillaries, according to the medical director of the Ethos Spa, Skin and Laser Center, Hardick Soni. Salmon patches occur in 50 percent of babies worldwide, according to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), and may appear more prominent when babies cry because of more intense blood flow.
Strawberry marks are pink or red and often grow in the first few months of a child’s life. They may vanish once the child reaches the age of 7 to 10.
Pigmented birthmarks, on the other hand, are caused by more blood vessels than needed in a particular area of the skin. This is associated with skin color distribution and is due to an “over-secretion of the skin pigment melanin or a clustering of pigment cells called melanocytes in the area involved,” Mundozie explained. The resulting mark differs slightly from the rest of the skin.
A common type of pigmented birthmarks is the so-called café au lait spot, which is a brown area on the skin that often fades as a person ages, according to the American Academy of Dermatologists (AAD). Another type is the Mongolian spot, which usually appears on children with darker skin and may last a lifetime.
It is believed that some birthmarks are genetic, but scientists are researching why some fade and others do not.
Most birthmarks are believed to occur randomly, according to Stanford Children Health, though doctors argue they may be passed down from previous generations. “Some birthmarks run in families,” Soni explained. “However, scientists are not completely sure why birthmarks only affect some babies, or why they develop in the first place.”
According to the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), some birthmarks may indicate a risk of cancer or other health issues. For instance, Congenital melanocytic nevi, a pigmented birthmark, is flat at first but will soon grow hair. This increases the risk of skin cancer.
It is important to keep an eye on birthmarks to notice any change in shape as well as itches or bleeding. (vit/kes)