Can Birthmarks Be Harmful?

Stork bites, port-wine stains, angel’s kisses—these skin abnormalities known as vascular birthmarks, which appear during the first weeks of life but can leave a lasting impression, are more common than you may think.  For instance, did you know that more than one in 10 babies is born with a vascular birthmark?  While most vascular birthmarks are small and harmless, some are much more pronounced—covering 50 percent or more of the body—and require medical attention.

So why do vascular birthmarks occur?  Nobody really knows.  Most vascular birthmarks are not inherited, nor are they caused by anything that happens to the mother during pregnancy. Even more perplexing, some vascular birthmarks disappear in a couple of years while others last into adulthood.

The Skinny on Vascular Birthmarks
There are several varieties of vascular birthmarks, but the most common are macular stains, hemangiomas and port-wine stains. Here’s how to tell the difference:

  • >Macular Stains: The most common type of vascular birthmarks, macular stains go by many names. For example, they are called “angel’s kisses” when they are located on the forehead or eyelids; they are known as “stork bites” when they are found on the back of the neck. Pink and flat, macular stains can also occur on the tip of the nose, upper lip or any other body location. Angel’s kisses almost always vanish by age 2, but stork bites often last into adulthood. Most important, these birthmarks are harmless and require no treatment.

  • >Hemangiomas: These marks do not usually appear immediately after birth, but become visible within the first weeks of life. Hemangiomas are usually divided into two types: strawberry hemangiomas and cavernous hemangiomas. A strawberry hemangioma is slightly raised and bright red because the abnormal blood vessels are very close to the surface of the skin. A cavernous hemangioma, on the other hand, is blue in color because the abnormal blood vessels are deeper under the skin.

    Hemangiomas usually appear during the first six weeks of life and grow for about a year. Most never exceed two or three inches in diameter, though some can grow larger. Hemangiomas, more prevalent in females and premature babies, begin to turn white after a year and stop growing. Best of all, nine out of 10 will go away completely before the teenage years, leaving behind only a faint mark.

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