Birthmark

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

View the Adult Skin Problems Slideshow Pictures

Birthmark Causes

Klippel-Trènaunay-Weber (KTW) syndrome

What is a port-wine stain?

A port-wine stain is a certain type of hemangioma. This capillary hemangioma has a recognizable appearance. It is usually a deep violet ("port-wine") colored lesion with fairly linear borders.

Quick GuideBirthmarks Pictures Slideshow

Birthmarks Pictures Slideshow

Birthmark facts

  • Birthmarks are composed of various types of normal tissue or pigment that have lost their way to their normal destination during fetal development.
  • Most birthmarks are small and do not produce medical problems.
  • The most common birthmarks are composed of either pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) or blood vessels.
  • Rarely, certain birthmarks can be a clue to a more serious medical problem.

What is a birthmark?

Any mark, spot, or bump that is present in or around the time of birth on the skin of an infant is a birthmark. Mothers are fond of giving these rather romantic names such as angel's kisses, stork bites, or beauty marks. Most of these lesions are not particularly esthetically desirable.

What are the different types of birthmarks?

Birthmarks can be categorized according to their composition. Marks as a result of excessive accumulations of melanin are called pigmented birthmarks, since the great majority of them are brown to black. Other birthmarks appear lighter than the rest of the skin due to a relative lack of melanin.

Some birthmarks are composed of blood vessels and are called vascular birthmarks. They are generally red, blue, or purple. Other birthmarks are composed of lymphatic tissue (cystic hygroma), breast tissue, and epidermal tissue, which are often yellow to flesh-colored.

What are the characteristics of pigmented birthmarks?

Pigmented birthmarks can be flat or elevated. They may simply be due to excessive deposition of melanin pigment in the deeper layers of the skin called dermal melanosis. This is particularly common in more heavily pigmented infants and is commonly called a Mongolian spot. More frequently, there are accumulations of melanin produced by and contained in pigment cells called melanocytes. The medical term for such a concentration of melanin-producing cells is a nevus. These nevi are generally small, no larger than ¼ inch diameter, however, they can be quite large, covering a significant portion the infant's skin.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/15/2015

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