What Are Birthmarks?

Once called stork marks or stork bites to go along with the myth that storks deliver babies, birthmarks go by many different names. About 10% of babies have birthmarks. Some are born with them, and some develop them soon after birth. 

Birthmarks range in color, size, shape, and depth. In the majority of cases, birthmarks are harmless. In some cases, they fade as you get older, but they get larger, darker, and more unattractive in other cases. 

If you have a birthmark that’s bothering you, our board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Bruce Saal, MD, at Los Gatos Dermatology can help you get rid of it, even if you've had it since you were a baby. 

Read on as we explain everything you need to know about birthmarks and how to fade them if they bother you.

Birthmark causes and types

A birthmark can be a flat mark, a raised mole, an absence of color, or dispersed freckling. It can appear red, black, brown, pink, tan, or purple. It can look like a bruise, a stain, dirt, or a rash. Most birthmarks fall into two categories: vascular birthmarks and pigmented birthmarks.

Vascular birthmarks

Most birthmarks fall under this category. Their appearance is related to blood vessels under your skin. There are too many blood vessels in some cases, and other times it's because the blood vessels are wide or large. 

These types of birthmarks include hemangiomas, also called strawberry marks, macular stains, and port-wine stains. The first two types usually go away on their own. 

A port-wine mark is the most unsightly of the three. It's a deep purple stain that covers a large area of the body, usually the face, neck, arms, or legs. It doesn’t fade over time and tends to get darker and larger as the child grows.

Pigmented birthmarks

Pigment changes in the skin cause these birthmarks. They tend to be brown, black, or blue. Common types of pigmented birthmarks include café au lait spots and moles. These types of moles tend not to fade over time. 

How to fade a birthmark

If your childhood birthmark fails to fade and you'd like to remove it, there are surgical and laser options that can help. 

Two options that we offer at Los Gatos Dermatology include CO2 laser resurfacing and intense pulsed light (IPL), which is not a laser but a light therapy treatment that can help fade or eliminate dark spots on your skin.

A CO2 laser is a more intense treatment that requires more downtime but also has more dramatic results. During this laser treatment, we remove the skin's thin outer layer and heat the underlying layer. This process stimulates collagen and regrowth of new smooth, birthmark-free skin. 

IPL is a non-invasive treatment that we use to treat a variety of skin issues, including unwanted dark spots like moles. Sometimes referred to as photorejuvenation, this treatment breaks up dark pigmentation and improves the texture and appearance of your skin.

If you have a birthmark somewhere on your body that you've wanted to get rid of for a while, call us at Los Gatos Dermatology, located in Los Gatos, California, to find out the best treatment option for your birthmark.

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