As a new parent, you probably check over your baby’s skin from head to toe. You may notice birthmarks, which are areas on the skin that are discolored compared to the surrounding skin. Almost everyone has them, and they are almost always harmless and don’t require treatment.
But, there are a few types of birthmarks on babies you should discuss with your pediatrician or a dermatologist. Joshua Tournas, MD, a dermatologist at Banner Health in Sun City West, AZ, explained what these birthmarks look like, when you should be concerned about them, and how they can be treated.
A hemangioma looks like a red or purple raised lesion on the skin. It can grow during your child’s first year before it enters a resting phase and then starts to disappear. It’s a type of vascular birthmark, which means it’s caused by extra blood vessels in the skin. About 10% of babies are born with them.
You’ll find them most commonly on the face, neck, chest or back. They are usually apparent at birth or appear in the first few months after your baby is born. They don’t hurt your baby, but they can be irritated more easily than other skin. Your doctor can diagnose a hemangioma by its appearance — no testing is needed.
Many hemangiomas are small and don’t need treatment. They often go away on their own as your child grows. But some can interfere with vision or hearing (this is rare). Some can be a sign of possible spine or central nervous system problems.
Even if your baby’s hemangioma doesn’t need medical treatment, you may want to treat it for cosmetic reasons. “A lot of hemangiomas disappear, but they leave a scar behind,” Dr. Tournas explained. “Treatment can shrink them.”
Doctors have been treating hemangiomas with low doses of oral beta blockers. More recently, topical beta blockers that you can apply directly to the hemangioma have emerged as a treatment option, with fewer side effects. “There are a lot more treatment options available, so big hemangiomas aren’t as much of an issue as they were in the past,” Dr. Tournas said.
If beta blockers don’t work, topical steroids and laser surgery are other options to consider.
A congenital nevus (plural: congenital nevi) looks like a typical mole, though it may be larger, darker or hairy. These pigmented moles usually appear at birth or before a baby turns 1, and they can appear anywhere on the body. They are generally round or oval-shaped and often raised higher than the surrounding skin.
They are common and don’t normally cause any health problems, but a small percentage can turn into skin cancer as your baby gets older. So, you want to be sure to have your pediatrician or dermatologist keep an eye on these moles.
If a doctor suspects a congenital nevus could be cancerous, they will probably recommend removing it surgically. These moles may also be removed if they interfere with your baby’s function, or for cosmetic reasons.
A third type of birthmark, called vascular malformation, looks like a bluish mass. They are very rare and abnormal but noncancerous. They can be treated with a procedure that blocks the blood vessels, called embolization, or with surgery.
What about other types of birthmarks?
We often use the term “birthmark” to refer to any small, discolored area on the skin. But true birthmarks are apparent at birth or in the early months of a baby’s life. Marks that appear on older children, teens or adults are usually moles.
Most moles look like a small pink, brown or tan growth with a distinctive edge. They usually don’t need to be treated or removed. If you notice a change in the color, shape or size of a mole, or if it becomes itchy or painful, consult your doctor. These changes could be signs of skin cancer.
The bottom line
Birthmarks are common in babies, and most are harmless. Your doctor will want to monitor certain birthmarks for signs of cancer, though. And if you would like to have your baby’s birthmark treated for cosmetic reasons, there are a range of options you can consider.