What Are Birthmarks?

Birthmarks are areas of discolored and/or raised skin that develop before birth, or appear shorty after birth, and are made up of malformed pigment cells or blood vessels.

Our staff is experienced in treating dermatology concerns in children of all ages, including birthmarks.


Café-au-lait spots are named for their light brown color: “Café-au-lait” means “coffee with milk” in French - with up to 30% of children having one by the age of six.

Types of Red Birthmarks

These types of colored birthmarks are skin markings created by blood vessels close to the skin’s surface and develop before or shortly after birth. Red birthmarks include:

Strawberry Hemangiomas
These are vascular birthmarks, meaning that they consist of blood vessels close to the skin’s surface. They may appear several weeks after birth and can have a spongy appearance. Also known as strawberry marks, they are most often found on the head, neck or limbs. In most cases, strawberry hemangiomas usually disappear by the time a child is 9 years old.

Cavernous Hemangiomas
Cavernous hemangiomas (angioma cavernosum, cavernoma) are similar to strawberry hemangiomas but are more deeply situated. They often appear as a red-blue spongy mass of tissue filled with blood. Some of these lesions disappear on their own, usually as a child approaches school age.

Port-Wine Stains
These vascular birthmarks are flat and consist of dilated blood capillaries. They sometimes harbor underlying tissue abnormalities and should always be examined by a board-certified dermatologist. These birthmarks most often occur on the face and are usually permanent (unless treated). Sometimes they thicken and/or darken over time.

Salmon Patches
These marks appear on about 30 percent to 50 percent of newborn babies and are actually small blood vessels (capillaries) that are visible through the skin. They most commonly occur on the forehead, eyelids, upper lip, between the eyebrows, and the back of the neck. These patches usually fade as babies grow.

Types of Pigmented Birthmarks

These birthmarks often range from brown or black to bluish or blue-gray in color and include:

Cafe-au-lait Spots
These usually appear as light tan or light brown spots and are often oval in shape. Cafe-au-lait spots might be a normal type of birthmark, but the presence of several cafe-au-lait spots larger than a quarter might be the sign of a genetic disorder that causes abnormal cell growth of nerve tissues and other conditions. These should be seen by your dermatologist.

Congenital Nevi
These are more commonly known as moles that are present at birth. These moles are normally brown or black and are present at birth or develop in the first month or so of life.

Dermal Melanocytosis (Mongolian Spots)
These birthmarks are usually bluish, look like bruises and appear in the first weeks following birth. They are often found on the buttocks and/or lower back, but they sometimes also appear on the trunk or arms. These spots are more commonly seen in people who have darker skin.

Pigmented Nevi
This is another type of mole and is usually flesh-colored, brown or black and can appear anywhere on the skin – alone or in groups.

Signs and Symptoms of Red Birthmarks

Symptoms of red birthmarks include:

  • Skin markings that develop before or shortly after birth
  • Red skin rashes or lesions
  • Skin markings that resemble blood vessels
  • Possible bleeding
  • Skin that might break open

Signs and Symptoms of Pigmented Birthmarks

Pigmented birthmarks might:

  • Increase in size as the child grows
  • Change colors (especially after sun exposure and during the teen years as hormone levels change)
  • Become itchy and may occasionally bleed

Causes of Red Birthmarks

Red birthmarks are caused by an overgrowth of blood vessels.

Causes of Pigmented Birthmarks

While the cause of pigmented birthmarks is not known, we do know that the amount and location of melanin, a substance that determines skin color, is what determines the color of these types of birthmarks.

Birthmark Treatments

In most cases, no treatment is needed for the birthmarks. However, when they do require treatment, treatment varies based on the kind of birthmark. For example, a large nevi that affects a child’s appearance and/or self-esteem might be covered with special cosmetics, as opposed to moles, which are often removed surgically if they affect a child’s appearance or if they have an increased risk of skin cancer.

Red birthmark treatments may include:

  • Cryotherapy (freezing)
  • Laser surgery
  • Surgical removal