Birthmarks are sometimes among the defining characteristics of a person’s appearance. For people in the public eye, they can become a trademark, like Marilyn Monroe’s beauty mark or Mikhail Gorbachev’s port-wine stain.
Whether you view the markings on your face or body as “birthmarks” or “beauty marks,” they’re a unique part of your appearance that you can celebrate or minimize as you wish. But regardless of whether you believe your mole or port-wine stain enhances your appearance or detracts from it, it’s important to have periodic screenings to make sure it isn’t symptomatic of a more serious health concern.
What is a Birthmark?
Did you know that not all birthmarks are present at birth? Certain types develop several weeks later. Many completely resolve on their own as the child grows up.
Birthmarks are skin discolorations that appear either at or shortly after birth. They can be flat or raised, and they vary in color, generally ranging from skin-toned to extremely dark. They are also highly variable in size; they can range from pinprick-sized to large enough to cover a significant portion of the body.
Here are the three main categories:
- Vascular: Vascular birthmarks start as malformations of the blood vessels. They are bright or deep red and can be either raised or flat patches. Hemangiomas are raised patches, sometimes becoming almost perfectly domed and smooth. Port-wine stains are flat marks that are colored deep red. While they are occasionally associated with certain medical abnormalities, they are harmless in the vast majority of people.
- Pigmented: Pigmented birthmarks are the result of skin pigmentation anomalies, and typically range in color from tan to dark brown. The three categories are café-au-lait macules, moles, and Mongolian spots. Café-au-lait macules, also called café-au-lait spots, are flat, and generally one or two shades darker than the overall skin tone. Moles are moderately dark to very dark clusters of hyperpigmented cells that can be either flat or raised. Mongolian spots are dark, sometimes bluish blotches that can cover the limbs and back at birth, but will typically fade over time. Moles can sometimes develop complications; the larger they are, the greater the risk of developing melanoma.
- Non-melanocytic: This type of birthmark is unrelated to either blood vessels or pigmentation. It can be either the result of an overabundance of external skin cells (nevus sebaceous), or a benign tumorous growth within the hair follicle (epidermal nevi).
Birthmark Treatment and Removal Options
While birthmarks are extremely common, typically harmless, and sometimes quite charming, they can make some people feel self-conscious because of their prominence or location on the face or body. Also, they can change over time. When the appearance or sensation of a mole changes, it might be an indication of an underlying medical problem.
If you have a mole or other marking that doesn’t exhibit any signs of medical complications and you want to keep it, you will not require medical treatment.
However, if you are considering removal, the appropriate treatment will depend upon various factors, including the type of mark and the size. The following interventions are the most common types of treatment:
Your dermatologist will determine the most effective solution for your individual condition, lifestyle, and goals.
If you have a mole that you would like removed for cosmetic reasons, or if you have a growth that seems to be getting bigger or has become painful, please don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation with the expert team at IDI.