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Birthmarks

Birthmarks are coloured marks on the skin that are present at birth or soon afterwards. Most are harmless and disappear without treatment, but some may need to be treated.

There are many different types of birthmark.

Flat, red or pink areas of skin (salmon patches or stork marks)

Image of a baby's face with a salmon patches birthmark on their eyelids and forehead

Salmon patches:

  • are red or pink patches, often on a baby's eyelids, head or neck
  • are very common
  • look red or pink on light and dark skin
  • are easier to see when a baby cries
  • usually fade by the age of 2 when on the forehead or eyelids
  • can take longer to fade when on the back of the head or neck

Red, purple or dark marks (port wine stains)

Image of a port wine birthmark on a person's cheek and nose

Port wine stains:

  • are red, purple or dark marks and usually on the face and neck
  • are present from birth
  • look like very dark patches on dark skin
  • usually affect one side of the body, but can affect both
  • can sometimes be made lighter using laser treatment (it's most effective on young children)
  • can become darker and lumpier if not treated
  • can be a sign of Sturge-Weber syndrome and Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome, or macrocephaly-capillary malformation, but this is rare

Flat, light or dark brown patches (cafe-au-lait spots)

Close-up image of a flat, light brown patch on a person's skin

Cafe-au-lait spots:

  • are light or dark brown patches that can be anywhere on the body
  • are common, with many children often having 1 or 2
  • look darker on dark skin
  • can be different sizes and shapes
  • may be a sign of neurofibromatosis type 1 if a child has 6 or more spots

Blue-grey birthmarks (Mongolian blue spots)

Image of an Asian baby's leg with a large, dark coloured birthmark that looks like a bruise

Mongolian blue spots:

  • are blue-grey birthmarks, often on the lower back or bottom, or they can be on the arms or legs
  • are present from birth
  • most commonly affect babies with dark skin
  • usually disappear by the age of 4
  • do not need treatment and are not a sign of an underlying condition
  • can be mistaken for bruises so should be recorded on a baby's medical records from birth

Brown or black moles (congenital moles or congenital melanocytic naevi)

Congenital moles:

  • are brown or black moles caused by an overgrowth of pigment cells in the skin
  • look darker on dark skin
  • can become darker, raised and hairy, particularly during puberty
  • may develop into skin cancer if they're large (the risk increases the larger they are)
  • do not need to be treated unless there's a risk of skin cancer
Information:

Find out about other types of birthmark:

The Birthmark Support Group has information about other types of birthmark and getting help and support.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • you're worried about a birthmark
  • a birthmark is close to the eye, nose, or mouth
  • a birthmark has got bigger, darker or lumpier
  • a birthmark is sore or painful
  • your child has 6 or more cafe-au-lait spots
  • you or your child has a large congenital mole

The GP may ask you to check the birthmark for changes, or they may refer you to a skin specialist (dermatologist).

Most birthmarks do not need treatment, but some do. This is why it's important to get a birthmark checked if you're worried about it.

A birthmark can be removed on the NHS if it's affecting a person's health. If you want a birthmark removed for cosmetic reasons, you'll have to pay to have it done privately.

Possible treatments for birthmarks include:

  • medicines – to reduce blood flow to the birthmark, which can slow down its growth and make it lighter in colour
  • laser therapy – where heat and light are used to make the birthmark smaller and lighter (it works best if started between 6 months and 1 year of age)
  • surgery – to remove the birthmark (but it can leave scarring)