What Are Birthmarks?

Jan 19, 2015
What Are Birthmarks?
What are birthmarks? A majority of people have seen them, and many of those people probably have a birthmark whether they are aware of it or not. Despite the prevalence of birthmarks, the phenomena remains a mystery.

What are birthmarks? A majority of people have seen them, and many of those people probably have a birthmark whether they are aware of it or not. Despite the prevalence of birthmarks, the phenomena remains a mystery.

At their most basic, birthmarks are a discoloration of the skin that is present at birth or that appears shortly thereafter. Frequently, they are red or pink, but pigmented birthmarks that are brownish may also occur. Researchers aren’t certain precisely what causes birthmarks. Nonetheless, this has not stopped cultures the world over from developing certain birthmark myths.

Ancient Beliefs and Myths About Birthmarks

For many centuries, cultures have put faith in various birthmark myths. Some societies considered a birthmark as a good omen, while others thought they were a portent of evil. Many cultures believed that a birthmark appeared because of the behavior of the expectant mother. For instance, some people believed that if a pregnant woman craved strawberries and did not have any, then her child would be born with a strawberry colored mark. Others felt that birthmarks were the result of a mother eating too many red foods.

Other birthmark myths had nothing to do with what the mother did or did not eat. Societies sometimes believed that a mother’s strong emotions caused birthmarks or that if she stared into fire it would cause a burn on her child’s skin. In cultures where the concept of reincarnation is closely held, many believe that a birthmark is the sign of an injury from another life.

Cultures have also varied in the way they treat someone with a birthmark. Some consider it lucky to touch a person who has a birthmark, but in other parts of the world, people have been ostracized because birthmarks are seen to be the mark of the devil.

In the modern world, most of these birthmark myths no longer have the faith of the people. Birthmarks are known to be harmless in almost every case, and certainly don’t indicate any misbehavior on the part of the mother or evil intentions on the part of the child. Still, many people who have them are anxious to know how to get rid of birthmarks.

Different Types of Birthmarks

Before learning about birthmark removal, it may be helpful to be able to identify the different types of birthmarks. There are two main categories: vascular and pigmented. Within these two are several subcategories. Macular stains are a common form of vascular birthmark that usually appear on the head. Most of these fade before the age of two. The second vascular type is the port-wine stain, so called because of its dark red color which causes it to resemble spilled wine. These do not fade with age and may even become darker. Usually, they are not harmful, but if one appears close to the eyes, it can affect the vision.

The third vascular birthmark subcategory is the hemangiomas, which is commonly called a strawberry mark. It’s typically raised and red. Many of them disappear by the age of 10, but this is not always the case. A strawberry mark can be a cause for other health concerns. Because it can be quite large and puffy, a strawberry mark can interfere with the basic functions of everyday living. A child dealing with such a condition should see a dermatologist immediately.

The pigmented types of birthmarks are not caused by blood vessels like the vascular marks. Overactive pigment cells cause these instead. Subcategories include cafe-au-lait spots, Mongolian spots and moles. These marks are most often brown or tan in color. Usually, they do not signify a worrisome medical condition, but it’s important to be wary of a mole that grows or changes over time as this may be a sign of skin cancer.

Although precisely what causes birthmarks remains something of a mystery, birthmark removal is a much more straightforward subject. Many people are not troubled by the appearance of a birthmark, particularly if it is light in color and not prominently placed. However, other people may suffer years of anguish as the result of a dark colored, conspicuously placed birthmark. Whether you are concerned that your health is at risk or you simply want to improve your appearance, you have a valid reason for wanting to find out how to get rid of birthmarks.

How to Get Rid of Birthmarks

The first step toward birthmark removal is a consultation with a board certified dermatologist. Your dermatologist will collect your medical history and listen to your concerns. After evaluating the types of birthmarks you have, he’ll make a recommendation for how to proceed. It’s sensible to listen carefully as the dermatologist explains the procedure and provides you with expectations about the results of the procedure. As with any medical treatment, it’s important to understand the risks and the potential outcomes before having it performed.

Your dermatologist may recommend laser therapy as a method of birthmark removal. Usually this is a good method for birthmarks appearing close to the surface of the skin. This safe, effective treatment is suitable for patients of any age and involves exposure to short bursts of laser light. The laser may be able to shrink the mark or prevent it from growing. In many cases, several treatment sessions are needed to obtain full results.

Some birthmarks may also be successfully treated through the use of topical creams and oral medications. In fact, some dermatologists will use several treatment methods to get the best results. Each person is as unique as their birthmarks, so a dermatologist must make a careful assessment and recommendation before proceeding.

If you are wondering, “What are birthmarks?” you’re not alone. Billions of people have them. While birthmarks are not necessarily harmful, they can indicate an underlying health condition that should be investigated by a doctor. However, some people just don’t like the way they look with a prominent birthmark. There are treatment options available for people in either of these situations. Don’t let a birthmark hold you back from feeling the self-confidence you deserve. Contact a dermatologist to learn more about birthmark removal.