Many features of our skin are caused or affected by our own choices, like sun protection, skin care habits, and even diet. But birthmarks, on the other hand, are very unique types of skin spots because they are often with us throughout our lives, aren’t generally affected by what we put on our skin, and don’t even have a firmly identifiable cause. These can range from the tiniest freckles to the largest port wine stains. They’re an incredibly common concern that many of our patients at Dermatology Associates of Atlanta (DAA) ask about, and here are a few of the questions we hear most frequently.
Why do birthmarks look so different from one another?
There are many unique types of birthmarks, and even when two people have the same type of birthmark, their appearance is often different from one person to another. The two major categories include pigmented birthmarks (which are made up of irregular clumps of melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells in the skin) and vascular birthmarks (which are comprised of abnormal blood vessels and usually have a reddish appearance). Pigmented birthmarks include moles, café-au-lait spots (flat, abnormally-shaped and a slightly darker brown than your normal skin tone), and Mongolian spots (flat and gray-blue in color). Vascular birthmarks, on the other hand, include port-wine stains (dark red and often appearing on the face), salmon patches (lighter red or pink flat spots), and hemangiomas (often bright red and raised above the skin, or blue-purple if they form beneath the skin).
Is a birthmark ever cause for concern?
The general rule is that if there’s anything on your skin you aren’t sure about, schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist to have it examined. Often, birthmarks are completely harmless growths. However, there are situations when we need to either monitor a birthmark (like a large mole) for signs of skin cancer or when a birthmark could signal an underlying issue (like a circulatory condition, eye problems, seizure disorders, and more). It’s best to have any birthmarks examined as soon as you notice them, but it’s particularly important to visit us if you notice your birthmark or mole/spot changing, hurting, or bleeding.
Why do some people have their birthmarks removed?
We may recommend that a birthmark be removed if it’s at risk for developing skin cancer, and some hemangiomas (red spots) may be medically safer or more comfortable to remove if they’re in certain areas, like near the eyes, lips, nose, or groin, because these could lead to complications. Although a particular birthmark may be medically harmless, it may still be removed for cosmetic reasons.
How are birthmarks removed?
Your specific procedure will depend on the type, size, and location of your birthmark, as well as a number of other factors. One option may be laser treatments, which are used to break down either the blood vessels in vascular birthmarks or the melanocytes in pigmented birthmarks. For raised birthmarks, surgical excision may be an option as well, and we also offer a variety of other methods based on your unique situation.
Who is a candidate for birthmark removal?
When there is no medical need, birthmark removal is a personal choice. Some patients embrace their birthmark as a part of their appearance, while others would prefer not to have their birthmarks. Ultimately, our skilled and licensed providers can customize the ideal birthmark removal method for you based on your unique circumstances. Laser treatments are among the most common procedures, and they can be performed on children and infants as young as two weeks old in some cases, allowing children to grow up without the self-consciousness and social burden they may feel from a prominent birthmark.
The bottom line is that all birthmarks are unique, and that as with anything you aren’t sure about when it comes to your skin, it’s best to schedule a consultation with us. Our board-certified dermatologists can determine whether your birthmark (or any other skin spot) poses a health concern, and can discuss the available options if you would like to have it removed. For more skincare tips and helpful information, follow Dermatology Associates of Atlanta on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.