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Birthmarks and other abnormal skin pigmentations

Birthmarks are well known as coloured marks on the skin. However, other conditions can cause patches of pigmented skin changes.

Birthmarks usually appear at birth or just a few weeks after birth. Most birthmarks are harmless, but a doctor or skin specialist should examine your child if he or she is born with abnormally coloured skin patches or develops birthmarks shortly after birth in case these may pose health risks later on.

Some birthmarks will require treatment to avoid them becoming permanent.

Other types may cause medical problems around the eyes, mouth or nose, while others may be treated for cosmetic reasons.

Procedures to remove birthmarks include plastic surgery, laser treatment and medication.

Special 'camouflage' make-up is also available.

Treatment for other pigmentation issues will depend on the cause and how it is affecting the child or person.

Many birthmarks do not require any treatment.

Pigmented birthmarks

These include:

Mongolian spots. The discoloured skin is smooth, flat and ‘bruised’ looking or blue in colour. These often appear on the buttocks.

Cafe-au-lait spots. These are light brown - coffee coloured.

Congenital melanocytic naevi. These are also called congenital moles and are largish brown or black moles a baby will be born with. Moles should be monitored for bleeding, colour, shape or size changes, or itching.

Vascular birthmarks

These include:

Salmon patch (stork mark). These are common red or pink patches that a baby can be born with that can affect the eyelids, neck or forehead. When the baby cries, these can get darker as they fill up with blood.

Infantile haemangiomas (strawberry marks). These are usually red and raised and can appear anywhere on the baby's body.

Capillary malformation (port wine stain). These red or purple flat patches are rare. They can range from just a few millimetres wide up to several centimetres across.

Skin pigmentation conditions

These include:

Albinism. This is an inherited (genetic) condition caused by the absence of the pigment melanin and results in no pigmentation in the skin, hair or eyes.

Melasma (chloasma or pregnancy mask). This causes tan or brown patches on the cheeks, nose or forehead. If this develops with pregnancy, it usually fades afterwards.

Skin damage. Some skin infections, injuries, blisters or burns can cause a loss of pigmentation to the affected area.

Vitiligo. This pigmentation condition happens when pigment cells called melanocytes are destroyed.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 16, 2016

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