What are birthmarks?

There are two main categories of birthmarks — red birthmarks and pigmented birthmarks. Red birthmarks are a vascular (blood vessel) type of birthmark. Pigmented birthmarks are areas in which the color of the birthmark is different from the color of the rest of the skin.

What are red birthmarks?

Red birthmarks are colored, vascular (blood vessel) skin markings that develop before or shortly after birth. Red birthmarks are caused by an overgrowth of blood vessels.

What are the types of red birthmarks?

One common kind of vascular birthmark is the hemangioma. It usually is painless and harmless and its cause is unknown. Color from the birthmark comes from the extensive development of blood vessels at the site.

Strawberry hemangiomas (strawberry mark, nevus vascularis, capillary hemangioma, hemangioma simplex) might appear anywhere on the body, but are most common on the face, scalp, back, or chest. They consist of small, closely packed blood vessels. They might be absent at birth, and develop after several weeks. They usually grow rapidly, remain a fixed size, and then subside. In most cases, strawberry hemangiomas disappear by the time a child is 9 years old. Some slight discoloration or puckering of the skin might remain at the site of the hemangioma.

Cavernous hemangiomas (angioma cavernosum, cavernoma) are similar to strawberry hemangiomas but are more deeply situated. They might 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 are flat, purple-to-red birthmarks made of dilated blood capillaries. These birthmarks occur most often on the face and might vary in size. Port-wine stains often are permanent (unless treated) and might thicken or darken over time, resulting in emotional distress.

Salmon patches (also called stork bites) appear on 30 percent to 50 percent of newborn babies. These marks are small blood vessels (capillaries) that are visible through the skin. They are most common on the forehead, eyelids, upper lip, between the eyebrows, and the back of the neck. Often, these marks fade as the infant grows.

What are pigmented birthmarks?

Pigmented birthmarks are skin markings that are present at birth. The marks might range from brown or black to bluish, or blue-gray in color.

What are the types of pigmented birthmarks?

Mongolian spots are usually bluish and look like bruises. They often appear on the buttocks and/or lower back, but they sometimes also appear on the trunk or arms. These spots are seen most often in people who have darker skin.

Pigmented nevi (moles) are growths on the skin that usually are flesh-colored, brown, or black. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin, alone or in groups.

Congenital nevi are moles that are present at birth. About 1 in 100 people are born with one or more moles. These birthmarks have a slightly increased risk of becoming skin cancer, depending on their size. Larger congenital nevi (>20 cm) have a greater risk of developing into skin cancer than do smaller congenital nevi. All congenital nevi should be examined by a healthcare provider, and any change in the birthmark should be reported.

Cafe-au-lait spots are light tan or light brown spots that are usually oval in shape. They usually appear at birth but might develop in the first few years of a child’s life. 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 occur in neurofibromatosis (a genetic disorder that causes abnormal cell growth of nerve tissues) and other conditions.

What causes pigmented birthmarks?

The cause of pigmented birthmarks is not known. However, the amount and location of melanin (a substance that determines skin color) determines the color of pigmented birthmarks. 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 occur in neurofibromatosis (a genetic disorder that causes abnormal cell growth of nerve tissues). Moles occur when cells in the skin grow in a cluster instead of being spread throughout the skin. These cells are called melanocytes, and they make the pigment that gives skin its natural color. Moles might darken after exposure to the sun, during the teen years, and during pregnancy.

What are the 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 might occasionally bleed.

What are the 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

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy