Quarterback Drew Brees at Super Bowl
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Birthmark Basics

Birthmarks gain attention when there's a media blitz about someone with a visible mark, such as New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. News reports suggest that he was born with this birthmark on his right cheek, which doctors checked early on and found to be harmless. Folk wisdom calls such babies "touched by an angel," but a doctor's advice is best.

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Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev circa 1987
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What Is a Birthmark?

A birthmark is a colored mark on or under the skin that's present at birth or develops shortly after birth.Some birthmarks fade with time; others become more pronounced. Birthmarks may be caused by extra pigment-producing cells in the skin or by blood vessels that do not grow normally. Most birthmarks are painless and harmless. In rare cases, they can cause complications or are associated with other conditions. All birthmarks should be checked by a doctor.

Seen here is former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who has a port wine stain on his forehead.

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stork mark, salmon patch, or telangiectatic naevus
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Salmon Patches

Salmon patches are nests of blood vessels that appear as small, pink, flat marks on the skin. They occur in one-third of newborn babies. Salmon patches can appear on the back of the neck ("stork bite"), between the eyes ("angel's kiss"), or on the forehead, nose, upper lip, or eyelids. Some fade as baby grows, but patches on the back of the neck usually don't go away. Salmon patches require no treatment.

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Port-wine stain on infants face
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Port Wine Stains

A port wine stain begins as a flat, pinkish-red mark at birth and gradually becomes darker and reddish-purple with age. Most will get bigger and thicker, too. Port wine stains are caused by dilated blood capillaries and occur in about three out of every 1,000 babies. Those on the eyelid may increase the risk of glaucoma. Port wine stains may be a sign of other disorders, but usually not. Treatment includes laser therapy, skin grafts, and masking makeup.

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Mongolian spots on baby's back
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Mongolian Spots

Mongolian spots are flat, smooth marks that are present from birth. Frequently found on the buttocks or lower back, they're typically blue, but can also be bluish gray, bluish black, or brown. They may resemble a bruise. Mongolian spots are most common on darker-skinned babies. They usually fade by school age, but may never disappear entirely. No treatment is required.

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Cafe-au-lait spot on infant's torso
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Cafe-Au-Lait Spots

Cafe-au-lait spots are smooth and oval and range in color from light to medium brown, which is how they got their name, "coffee with milk" in French. They're typically found on the torso, buttocks, and legs. Cafe-au-lait spots may get bigger and darker with age, but are generally not considered a problem. However, having several spots larger than a quarter is linked with neurofibromatosis and the rare McCune-Albright syndrome. Consult a doctor if your child has several spots.

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Strawberry mark on baby's head
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Strawberry Hemangiomas

Hemangiomas are a collection of small, closely packed blood vessels. Strawberry hemangiomas occur on the surface of the skin, usually on the face, scalp, back, or chest. They may be red or purple and are often raised, with sharp borders. These occur in 2 of every 100 babies born.

Strawberry hemangiomas usually develop a few weeks after birth. They grow rapidly through the first year before disappearing around age 9. Some slight discoloration or puckering of the skin may remain at the site. No treatment is required, but when they develop near the eye or mouth, or in a location that can bleed or become infected, they may need to be treated or removed.

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Cavernous hemangioma
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Cavernous Hemangiomas

Present at birth, deeper cavernous hemangiomas are just under the skin and appear as a bluish spongy mass of tissue filled with blood. If they're deep enough, the overlying skin may look normal. Cavernous hemangiomas typically appear on the head or neck. Most disappear by puberty. A combination of cavernous and strawberry hemangioma can occur.

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venous malformation on the hand
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Venous Malformation

Venous malformations are caused by abnormally formed, dilated veins. Although present at birth, they may not become apparent until later in childhood or adulthood. Venous malformations appear in 1% to 4% of babies. They are often found on the jaw, cheek, tongue, and lips. They may also appear on other areas of the body. They will continue to grow slowly, and they don't shrink with time. Treatment -- often sclerotherapy or surgery -- may be necessary for pain or impaired function.

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pigmented hairy mole on the child's shoulder
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Congenital Nevi

Congenital nevi are moles that appear at birth. The surface may be flat, raised, or bumpy. These moles can grow anywhere on the body and vary in size from less than an inch to over 8 inches. Congenital nevi occur in 1% of newborns. Most moles are not dangerous. But congenital nevi, especially large ones, have an increased risk of developing into melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. All moles should be monitored for changes.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 02/02/2016 Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on February 02, 2016

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

(1) The Palm Beach Post
(2) Chris Niedenthal / Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images
(3) Biophoto Associates / Photo Researchers, Inc.
(4) “Color Atlas of Pediatric Dermatology”; Samuel Weinberg, Neil S. Prose, Leonard Kristal; Copyright 2888, 1998, 1990, 1975, by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
(5) SPL / Photo Researchers, Inc.
(6) Copyright © 2007 Interactive Medical Media LLC, All rights reserved.
(7) Dr P. Marazzi / Photo Researchers, Inc.
(8) Copyright © 2007 Interactive Medical Media LLC, All rights reserved.
(9) “Color Atlas of Pediatric Dermatology”; Samuel Weinberg, Neil S. Prose, Leonard Kristal; Copyright 2888, 1998, 1990, 1975, by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
(10) Copyright © Bart's Medical Library / Phototake -- All rights reserved.
 

 

REFERENCES:

WebMD Medical Reference: “Your Newborn's Skin and Rashes.”
WebMD Medical Reference: “Skin Conditions: Pigmented Birthmarks.”
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: “Birthmarks -– Topic Overview.”
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: “Birthmarks – Pigmented.”
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: “Skin Changes -– Topic Overview.”
WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic: “Skin Conditions: Moles, Freckles and Skin Tags.”
WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic: “Skin Conditions: Red Birthmarks.”
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: “Port Wine Stain.”
WebMD Medical Reference: “Cosmetic Procedures: Birthmarks and Other Abnormal Skin Pigmentation.”
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: “Birthmarks –– Red.”
American Academy of Dermatology: “Vascular Birthmarks.”
KidsHealth: “What’s a Birthmark?”
WebMD Medical Reference from the National Organization for Rare Disorders: “Cavernous Malformation.”
Vascular Birthmarks Foundation: “Venous Malformation Information.”
eMedicine from WebMD: “Vascular, Venous Malformations.”
WebMD Public Information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health: “What You Need to Know About Melanoma.”
Children’s Specialists of San Diego website: “Congenital Pigmented Moles (Congenital Nevi).
New York Times: “Congenital Nevus On the Abdomen.”
Dr. Green website: “Hemangioma.”
KidsHealth.org: "Port-Wine Stains."
HealthyChildren.org: "Your Newborn's Skin: Birthmarks & Rashes."
HealthyChildren.org: "Birthmarks & Hemangiomas."
American Academy of Dermatology: "Red, white, and brown: Defining characteristics of common birthmarks will determine type and timing of treatment."

Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on February 02, 2016

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.