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There are two types of birthmarks: vascular birthmarks and pigmented birthmarks. Within these broad categories, there are a number of specific types of birthmarks which can be found on the bodies of infants. As a general rule, birthmarks are benign, although they can sometimes look startling, and some parents opt for birthmark removal, in the case of severe birthmarks.
Most birthmarks are present at birth, although they may grow darker or lighter with time. In some cases, infants are born with marks which gradually melt away, which is why treatment for birthmarks should not be undertaken right away, in case the mark vanishes on its own. In a few instances, a birthmark only becomes apparent later in life as the body matures and changes.
Vascular birthmarks are caused by malformations of the veins. A classic example of a vascular birthmark is a hemangioma or strawberry birthmark, a raised reddish area caused by a tangle of veins. Port-wine stains and so-called “stork bites” or “angel kisses” are also examples of vascular birthmarks. These types of birthmarks tend to be reddish in color, and they are very common around the face.
Pigmented birthmarks are characterized by irregularities in the distribution of pigment, and they may be darker or lighter than the surrounding skin. Dark blue patches called Mongolian spots are pigmented birthmarks, as are cafe au lait markings. Often, the pigmentation difference is very subtle and difficult to detect without looking closely. Moles are another example of a pigmented birthmarks.
Of the various types of birthmarks, moles have the most potential to be problematic. If a mole changes size, shape, or color, it can be a sign of skin cancer, and some studies seem to suggest that moles make people more susceptible to skin cancer. Some moles can also be quite large, with people viewing them as unsightly, because they are often significantly darker from the rest of the body, causing them to stand out.
If the decision to remove a birthmark is made, a variety of approaches to treatment can be used. In some cases, surgical removal with a scalpel or laser is possible. Laser therapy can also be used in an attempt to lighten the pigment in pigmented types of birthmarks or to break the birthmark up so that it is less apparent. A dermatologist can provide counseling in specific cases, and determine whether or not birthmark removal will be effective for a patient.