Dr. Joel Schlessinger discusses what causes birthmarks

Birthmarks are largely harmless skin irregularities that appear at birth or shortly thereafter. It is estimated that more than 80% of babies are born with some type of birthmark, and they can vary greatly in appearance. Certain moles may be classified as birthmarks, but most recognizable marks are light brown, pink or red with irregular borders. Remember Dr. Schlessinger’s post about The Grand Budapest Hotel for the 2015 Dermies? Agatha, a lead character in the film, has a port-wine stain birthmark on her cheek in the shape of Mexico!

Doctors aren’t sure why birthmarks occur, says Dr. Joel Schlessinger.

While real birthmarks don’t usually have a definitive shape like Agatha’s, our marks still often help emphasize individuality and they feature prominently in many cultures. From good luck symbols to evidence of a mother’s diet during pregnancy, people have speculated for centuries about their significance. None of these stories has proven to scientifically explain birthmarks.

Dermatologists aren’t quite sure why some people develop certain birthmarks and others do not, but genetics and skin tone appear to play a role in some cases. While the exact cause of most birthmarks remains largely mysterious, dermatologists can define the skin phenomena that give the various types of marks their appearance. There are several subcategories, but for the most part, birthmarks can be divided into two types: pigmented and vascular.

Dr. Joel Schlessinger explains pigmented and vascular birthmarks.

Pigmented birthmarks are characterized by areas that are a different color than the rest of the skin. They are typically light brown or tan, but they can also be black, blue or blue-gray. These marks are caused by clusters of pigment cells. When there is an abnormal level of melanin (the pigment responsible for skin color) per square millimeter of skin, a birthmark forms. Size and color depend on the amount of melanin and location of the mark. Types of pigmented birthmarks include moles, café-au lait spots and Mongolian spots.

Vascular birthmarks are red or pink in appearance. They are caused by an overgrowth of blood vessels from a deficiency in the nerve supply during fetal development. Clusters of these tiny blood vessels form in a concentrated area, giving the mark its pinkish or reddish look. Common vascular birthmarks include macular stains, port-wine stains and hemangiomas.

See a dermatologist, like Dr. Joel Schlessinger, for certain types of birthmarks.

Birthmarks may disappear over time or grow larger, depending on their type. Most won’t require medical attention, but it’s a good idea to keep an eye on moles. Moles that are present at birth are thought by some to pose a greater risk of becoming cancerous later in life. If the spot changes shape, color or size, seek a physician’s care. In infants, certain hemangiomas in areas such as the chest may also require treatment since they can grow deep into skin tissue and affect organ functioning. If your baby’s hemangioma begins to bleed or form a sore, contact your dermatologist.

For more information on common types of birthmarks, see Dr. Schlessinger’s post and video.

Do you have a question for Dr. Schlessinger about birthmarks? Let us know in the comments section.

Posted Friday, July 10th, 2015 at 7:10 pm
Filed Under Category: Uncategorized
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