What is a Birthmark & How Does Birthmark Removal Work?

What is a birthmark? There are many different types of birthmarks.

What is a birthmark? There are many different types of birthmarks.


We’ve all seen them and some of us have even been born with them—but the truth remains that no one really knows where birthmarks come from and what causes them. Today we explore the different types of birthmarks out there, we take a look at birthmark removal, and also provide you with some useful information on the costs of such procedures.


A birthmark is a blemish on the skin visible at birth, or a very short while after birth. Birthmarks can be classified in many ways, according to their appearance. The two main types of birthmarks are:

  • Vascular: They’re red, purple, or pink, and they’re caused by an anomalous bunching up of blood vessels underneath the skin. Many experts believe that they’re not genetically inherited.
  • Pigmented: These birthmarks are colored brown and their emergence is caused by a bunching up of skin pigmentation cells.

There’s a lot of lore surrounding birthmarks. In some parts of the world, including Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as in some Arab countries, it is believed that the appearance of birthmarks is caused by the unfulfilled wishes or cravings of the mother during the pregnancy. If, for instance, the mother craves grapes and does not receive them while she is pregnant, her child will be born with a grape-shaped birthmark. In fact, the word for birthmark in these parts of the world reflects this notion of the unfulfilled wish: “voglie” in Italian, “antojos” in Spanish, and “wiham” in Arabic. All these words actually mean “wish” or “whim” or “craving”.


As explained above, we’re still not sure why birthmarks emerge and why some babies are born with them, while others are born without them. While most agree they’re not hereditary, one cause of specific types of birthmarks might be the production of proteins by the placenta. It’s been noted that birthmarks are far less common in populations of Asian origins or descent.

Based on their shape and color, the different types of birthmarks can be further categorized as follows:


What is a birthmark? Hemangioma

What is a birthmark? Hemangioma

One type of hemangioma is the strawberry mark. This type of birthmark might be caused by a buildup of cells in the lining of a baby’s blood vessels. Medical professionals explain that they may appear because of a microscopic portion of placenta getting caught in the developing embryo, in the very early stages of the pregnancy.

These birthmarks are usually red and elevated, even though they’re small and flat in the beginning. There’s no way to know beforehand if the mark will grow, but, if it does, it’s usually within a child’s first 4-5 months of life. The growth eventually stops and the mark may even fade away with time.

Larger hemanginomas might actually stretch and can even deform the skin.


What is a birthmark? Telangiectatic nevus

What is a birthmark? Telangiectatic nevus

This type of birthmark may also be alternatively referred to as stork marks or bites, or as salmon patches. Like strawberry marks, these are also caused by an accumulation of capillaries underneath the skin and are small patches of reddish skin.

Salmon patches on the face are usually called angel kisses and tend to fade away in a few years—though they might become visible again, when the child cries.

Stork marks are usually on the neck and don’t fade away, but most of them will be covered by hair.


What is a birthmark? Port wine stain

What is a birthmark? Port wine stain

This type of birthmark might be caused by widened or constricted capillary vessels in a particular area of the body.

According to the UK’s National Health Service, 3 out of 1,000 babies are born with these marks, whose size ranges from a few millimeters to a couple of centimeters wide. 10% of the infants born with port wine stains have them on their eyelids. Such cases require medical attention, especially since they might be an indicator of the Sturge-Weber syndrome, which is an abnormality in the brain.

If left untreated, port wine stain birthmarks can become darker.


What is a birthmark? Café au lait spot

What is a birthmark? Café au lait spot

These birthmarks obviously derive their name from their coffee-like color—in fact, they are a milky coffee color, i.e., a light brown.

They appear right at the time of birth or shortly thereafter and don’t fade away with age. Most babies are born with one or two such birthmarks, but more can occur.

Individuals who have over four such birthmarks might be suffering from neurofibromatosis: a hereditary condition in which your nerve terminations develop neurofibromas. These can be harmless, or can cause significant distress by pressing down on the nerves and other tissues.


What is a birthmark? Melanocytic nevus

What is a birthmark? Melanocytic nevus

This type of birthmark is present on approximately 1% of U.S. babies and 15% of them have these marks on their neck and head. People with fairer skin have these birthmarks in a light brown hue, while darker-skinned individual display them in very dark brown, almost black.

Unlike most other types of birthmarks, these may cause some concern, because they can be lumpy and raised (although they can also be flat). In short, they look like bigger, darker moles. However, they don’t typically increase in size with age, so as the baby grows older, they’ll outgrow them.

In puberty, they may also develop hairs. It’s also important to note that these birthmarks come with an associated, if low, risk of cancer, which is directly linked to the size of the spot.


What is a birthmark? Mongolian spot

What is a birthmark? Mongolian spot

These birthmarks affect people with darker skin and come in a blue-grey color similar to that of a bruise. They usually fade away by a child’s fourth birthday.

Mongolian spots usually appear on the buttocks or the lower back.

This is one type of birthmark that’s definitely inherited. They are silver hairstreaks at the hairline, to the left or to the right side of the head. Usually, other members of the same family also have silvermarks.


Doctors don’t usually recommend removing birthmarks, as many of them are harmless and a large part of them also tend to fade away or disappear on their own. Furthermore, not all birthmarks can be removed, and some treatments may be costly and/or painful.

Before and after laser birthmark removal

Before and after laser birthmark removal

However, if the patient feels strongly about removing a mark, as it causes him/her distress, or if it interferes with a basic life function (feeding, hearing, seeing, breathing), then it should be removed.


Though many purported skin care companies try to market birthmark removal cream, this rarely works. At best, it will help fade the birthmark away—but since many tend to go away on their own, it’s difficult to tell if the success of such a treatment is real. As an alternative, and to avoid spending your hard earned money on snake oil, we recommend natural and at-home alternatives instead:

  • Birthmark fading with fruit juice. Tomato and lemon juice both contain active substances which can influence the pigmentation of the skin. Dab the affected skin patch gently, with a cloth soaked in juice, 2-3 times per day, for two weeks.
  • Concealing make-up. Some children born with marks can suffer serious anxiety, self-consciousness, and other forms of emotional distress due to the presence of birthmarks in very visible areas. There are several charities around the world which help kids and parents deal with these issues, by providing skin camouflage services. One such not-for-profit is Changing Faces, formerly run by the Red Cross.

Though, as explained above, most birthmarks will disappear in time, in some cases surgery and/or medication will be needed. We outline some of the most frequently encountered such cases below, and also explain what your treatment options are.


In most cases, a hemangioma will disappear on its own before your child turns 2. However, they may also last for a longer span of time and, by and large, if they haven’t disappeared until the age of 5, they may last until your kid is around 12. To get rid of a pesky hemangioma, you can consider the following treatment options:

  • Plastic surgery. This is a viable alternative recommended by pediatricians, in cases in which the hemangioma has deformed or stretched the skin. The reconstructive surgery will try to rebuild the affected patch of skin.
  • Laser treatment. Larger and more complicated hemangiomas can even cause ulcers—case in which laser treatment, surgery, and monitoring will be necessary. This is especially the case for such birthmarks that develop around the mouth or in the genital area, since they can be painful and affect the child’s ability to eat and use the toilet.

Some such birthmarks may even appear on a child’s airways—and they will need to be removed with the aid of an endoscope. The procedure is called bronchoscopy and microlaryngoscopy and it can also be supplanted with the drug propranolol. In rare cases of an airway hemangioma, some kids will also undergo a temporary tracheostomy, i.e., an opening in their airways, to help them breathe better.

Large, painful, and complex cases of hemanginoma can also be treated with medication, such as oral, liquid propranolol. This substance, which is a beta-blocker will cause the birthmark to shrink in time. Bear in mind that the full scope of the side effects caused by propranolol are still being researched by the medical community.

If this treatment does not work, your child might also have to undergo treatment with steroids or a medication called vincristine.


These birthmarks are permanent and do not go away on their own. If concealing them with makeup is not a viable alternative, you will need to undergo laser birthmark removal. This treatment, in general, works better in young children than in adults (whose port wine stains may become enlarged, raised, and lumpy).

The treatment is called pulsed dye laser treatment and sends light 1mm into the skin, through a pen equipped with a fiber optic cable. The light heats up a blood vessel, which then breaks and bruises—but only for a week or two at most. The treatment entails 3-30 sessions spaced at about 6 to 8 weeks apart. It may cause bruising, pain and a sensitivity to natural sunlight which can last for as long as 6 months after the treatment has ended.