Birthmarks

A birthmark is a coloured area of skin. Some people are born with birthmarks (as the name suggests), but they can also appear in the weeks after you’re born. Many people have a birthmark of some kind but very few need treatment for them. Certain types of vascular birthmarks can be treated at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) with laser surgery.

The two main types of birthmarks are:

Pigmented birthmarks – these are made up of a collection of pigment cells in the skin. They can be brown, black or even blue. Types of pigmented birthmarks include congenital melanocytic naevi and Mongolian blue spots.

Vascular birthmarks – these are made up of a collection of blood vessels that haven’t formed properly. The most common types of vascular birthmark are port-wine stains and haemangiomas. Certain types of vascular birthmarks can also be a sign of a medical condition, such as Klippel Trenaunay syndrome and Sturge-Weber syndrome.

Causes

We don’t know exactly what causes a birthmark to form but we know it happens early in pregnancy when the skin and blood vessels are forming.

Signs

Most birthmarks are on the surface of the skin, but some may have elements beneath the skin. 

Treatment

Most birthmarks don’t need any treatment. Some haemangiomas need treatment with medicine by mouth and some port wine stains can be treated with lasers.

If you have a birthmark on a visible part of your body and you feel self conscious about it, you can use cosmetic camouflage to conceal it. This is a special waterproof type of make up that can be used to cover a birthmark so that it’s less visible. It lasts for several days and can be used by girls or boys.

Looking ahead

Many birthmarks are there for life, but haemangiomas shrink during childhood, leaving little sign that they were ever there.

Some birthmarks may change as you get older but most birthmarks stay the same size and look the same. They rarely need treatment, but if you have birthmarks and they make you feel self-conscious, you can conceal them with cosmetic camouflage. 

Last review date: 
July 2014