What's a Birthmark?

What's a Birthmark?

Birthmarks get their name for one simple reason: They are marks that are present on the skin of a lot of newborn babies! A baby can develop birthmarks either before being born or soon after birth.

One of the most common types of birthmarks is called a hemangioma (say: he-man-jee-OH-muh). Hemangiomas are a bunch of tiny blood vessels that grow in a specific area on the skin — that's why they usually look red or purple. Blood vessels are tiny tubes that carry blood through the body.

No one knows what causes blood vessels to group together, but it's good to know that most birthmarks aren't a sign of any kind of illness and usually don't hurt at all. Lots of newborns have these birthmarks on their bodies, perhaps between the eyebrows (where they're called angel kisses). These birthmarks are from wider blood vessels and usually disappear early in life.

Types of Hemangiomas

One kind of hemangioma is called a superficial hemangioma (sometimes called a strawberry hemangioma). If you think it gets its name from the fruit, you're right. A superficial hemangioma is bright red and sticks out of the skin, so it does look a little bit like a strawberry. Some superficial hemangiomas go away on their own by the time a kid is about 5 years old. Almost all superficial hemangiomas go away by themselves by the time a kid is about 9 years old.

Another type of hemangioma is beneath the outer layer of skin. It's called a deep hemangioma (sometimes called a cavernous hemangioma). Cavernous means "like a cave," and caves are deep in the earth. So this type of birthmark is deep beneath the outer layer of skin. It's puffier than a superficial hemangioma and a different color: not red like a strawberry, but more bluish-red.

Port Wine Stains

Another kind of birthmark is a port wine stain (these are from wider, not more blood vessels). This isn't puffy or raised like a superficial or deep hemangioma — it's level with the outer layer of skin. A port wine stain is an area of skin that is either maroon (a purplish-red color) or dark red. It gets its name from port wine, a type of wine that is dark maroon. Kids who have these stains usually have them on the face and neck.

Doctors can sometimes use laser surgery to treat birthmarks so that they can't be seen as much. It's important to remember, though, that birthmarks really aren't a big deal and kids who have them aren't any different from kids who don't.

By the way — If you have had any brown, blue, or black spots on your skin since birth, they are probably types of moles! Moles are tiny collections of pigment cells — cells that contain color. Like other birthmarks, moles don't hurt and usually aren't a sign of illness in kids. Sometimes they're even called beauty marks or beauty spots.

But if you have questions about a mole or birthmark on your body, you can ask your doctor about it.

Reviewed by: Patrice Hyde, MD
Date reviewed: April 2013

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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Related Resources
Web SiteVascular Birthmarks Foundation The Vascular Birthmarks Foundation provides support and resources for children and adults born with hemangiomas, port wine stains, and other vascular malformations and syndromes.
OrganizationSturge-Weber Foundation (SWF) The mission of the SWSF is to improve the quality of life for individuals with port wine stains, sturge-weber syndrome (SWS), and klippel-trenaunay syndrome (KT).
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