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What is a Birthmark?

Distracting birthmarks may be removed via lasers, surgery, or other techniques.
Birthmarks may appear on the skin of newborns or develop later in life.
Flat skin mole.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 August 2014
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A birthmark is a discoloration that appears on the skin of newborns or develops later in life. By nature, they are benign, although some people may find them unsightly. They vary widely in size, shape, location, and color. Historically, a number of interesting myths and legends have been associated with birthmarks, and they have unfortunately been linked with evil in some cultures.

These marks are sometimes referred to as naevi, referencing the Latin term used to describe benign lesions on the skin with clearly defined margins. Around one in three babies is born with some form of birthmark, most commonly a simple splotch or mole, and sometimes one will not manifest until later in life. No one is entirely sure what causes them; they are simply an illustration of the remarkable diversity of the human race.

A specific family known as vascular birthmarks are caused by malformations of the veins, which causes them to cluster very close to the skin. One notable form of this type is a port-wine stain, which takes the form of a large splotch that grows darker later in life. It is also possible to see what are known as “stork bites,” marks that manifest in the form of stippled reddish areas and usually disappear within a few years, or strawberry hemangiomas, raised areas of skin that look vaguely like strawberries.

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Mongolian spots are dark brown to purple discolorations found on many people of African and Asian descent. Other forms include cafe au lait spots and an assortment of other distinctive markings with equally colorful names.

Some people choose to remove their birthmarks, because they find them unsightly or distracting. They can be treated with lasers, surgery, and other techniques, depending on the nature of the birthmark involved, and some faint scarring may be left behind. Others choose to keep or even enhance them, along with their beauty spots.

Historically, birthmarks were viewed as manifestations of a mother's thoughts, desires, and experiences during pregnancy. For example, some cultures believed that children would develop red, splotchy ones if their mothers witnessed fires. Others thought that they were a sign of witchcraft and the devil's influence, and some women who had them found themselves persecuted as witches because of the marks on their bodies.

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Discuss this Article

Mykol
Post 12
As far as any removal of birthmarks, I think it would depend on a lot of factors. If it was a small birthmark that was in an out of the way place I don't think I would do anything about it.

I have a friend who had a birthmark removed as an adult because her parents never had the money for the surgery when she was growing up. As soon as she had the money to have this done, she had it removed. This birthmark was not very big, but it was on her face so it was noticeable.

Before having the birthmark removed she tried covering it up with makeup, but you could still see a red mark on her face. If it was me I probably would have done the same thing as long as the cost was not too outrageous.

andee
Post 11

When I see someone with a bright red birthmark on their face, I always feel bad for them. If it were me, I would do whatever I needed to see about removing the birthmark.

I don't know if this is something I would ever get used to or not. Every time I spoke with someone I would feel like they were looking at my birthmark instead of looking me in the eyes.

Maybe I am too vain and have the wrong attitude about this, but I know what I feel like when I have acne on my face, and this goes away after awhile. A birthmark would never go away and would probably cover up a much larger part of my face than a few pimples.

SarahSon
Post 10

My son was born with a birthmark on his shoulder and one on his calf. Has he as gotten older, the birthmarks are barely noticeable. We have not had any specific birthmark treatment, but they are gradually fading away on their own.

I hope in a few more years that you won't even be able to see them at all. I am just glad both of them are in places that are not visibly seen very often.

LisaLou
Post 9

Some close friends of ours adopted a child from another country who had a large port-wine birthmark on her face. If she had stayed in the country where she was originally from, her chances of ever marrying and having a family were very slim. This kind of physical marking on the face was looked at very negatively.

Her family was very thankful she was adopted by an American family. She had a few laser surgeries to remove the birthmark, and it made a big difference in how she looked and felt about herself.

They have been able to stay in touch with her family, and a few years later went back to her home country and visited her family. They were so excited when they saw her and saw that the birthmark was gone!

Perdido
Post 8

I have a cafe au lait birthmark that covers the inside of my left knee. My mother always called it my “tea stain,” because the edges of it speckle out and look like droplets of brown liquid.

The whole birthmark appears stippled. At its thickest point, you can't really tell that it's made up of tiny dots, but as it fans out, they become more apparent.

When I get a slight tan, the birthmark is less obvious. In the winter when my legs are very white, it is very noticeable, though.

lighth0se33
Post 7

As a teenager, I really wanted to remove my birthmark, but now that I'm older, I don't even think about it anymore. It is just a small patch on my arm, and I have much bigger issues these days.

giddion
Post 6

@DylanB – I wish my parents had taken me to get laser treatments on my port-wine birthmark. I had to go through high school with a big splotch right on my cheek.

In college, I worked to save up money to see a dermatologist. I had a full scholarship, so I didn't need the money to pay for college, and I was able to save it all for my doctor visits.

By the time I reached college, my birthmark felt like it was made up of tiny rocks glued to my skin. It was embarrassing, and thankfully, I had it treated during my sophomore year so that I could enjoy the last two years of college.

DylanB
Post 5

My niece was born with a port-wine stain birthmark on her neck. It started out very pink, but it turned purple as she got older.

She is seven now, and it looks maroon. We have read that it may develop a rough texture as she ages, and my sister has already determined that if this happens, she will take her to a dermatologist.

Port-wine stain birthmarks don't just go away, but you can get laser treatments that will help. This is most likely what my niece will need.

burcidi
Post 4

I have a friend who believes in reincarnation and she thinks that a birthmark is a sign of an injury the person had in a past life. She has a facial birthmark and another one on her leg and thinks that she was injured in her face and leg in a past life. I'm not sure if I believe this but I guess it's better than considering birthmarks a bad omen.

In some cultures actually, birthmarks are good omens. For example, in the Middle East, I've heard people say that since I have a birthmark on my right hand, I'm going to be a good cook. I have no idea where that came from, but it's nice to attribute birthmarks to something positive.

stoneMason
Post 3

@fify-- Sometimes birthmarks can disappear on their own. I think strawberry hemangiomas usually disappear on their own if they appeared on the infant from birth. That's what happened to my nephew.

My nephew was born with a not so small strawberry hemangioma on his cheek. At first, my brother and sister-in-law freaked out because they didn't want him to be negatively affected by it. They took him to the doctor and asked about birthmark removal. But the doctor said to give it time and that it would probably go away on its own.

They took his advice and over the next six months, the hemangioma kept getting smaller and smaller and finally disappeared. If they had gotten it removed, my nephew would have had a scar there. But right now, he's five years old and you can't even tell that he used to have a birthmark on his cheek.

fify
Post 2

@apolo72-- I think it depends on the kind of birthmark and also if it's changing, getting bigger or looking different with time. It might be because of sun exposure or other environmental factors. But you need to have a dermatologist look at it to know if it's related to a health condition or not.

I have a small brown birthmark on my back since birth. It hasn't changed at all though and it's not in a place that can really be seen. I've never worried about it or thought about having it removed. It doesn't bother me at all. In fact, I kind of like it now. I feel that it differentiates me from others somehow.

But I know sometimes birthmarks are very large or they're in a visibly seen area like the face. Then, people usually opt for having it removed because they just don't like the appearance of it.

apolo72
Post 1

Can developing birthmarks later in life be a sign of a health problem?

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