Many people are born with birthmarks and these birthmarks can vary in size, colour and location. Birthmarks are generally described as a mark on the skin that is unique to the individual that does not quickly disappear.
Most birthmarks are fairly small and are hidden by clothing however some birthmarks are on more prominent areas of the body. Some birthmarks can also pose health risks therefore some people may seek out the advice of a cosmetic surgeon with a view to getting the birthmark removed.
There are three major types of birthmark:
- Vascular Birthmarks: Vascular birthmarks are one of the most common types of birthmarks and are often known as ‘port-wine stains’. They can be found on all areas of the body and typically will not fade or disappear over time.
- Macular Birthmarks: Macular birthmarks are sometimes known as salmon patches and are flat, normally light pink patches of skin. They are most commonly found on the neck and eyelids. Those on the eyelids tend to fade over time, however the marks on the neck tend not to.
- Pigmentation Birthmarks: Pigmentation birthmarks are where the skin has too much colour or pigment. Pigmentation birthmarks include some moles, or brown or cream coloured patches of skin. These marks normally fade over time.
When to have your birthmark removed
The key to successful birthmark removal treatment is to treat the birthmark as early as possible – in infants, the colouring is often lighter therefore fewer treatments are needed to remove the birthmark. However, older children and adults can successfully have their birthmarks removed. At a young age, normally 4-6 treatments will be needed over a period of several months.
Birthmark Removal Treatment
Birthmark removal is normally done on an outpatient basis and normally does not involve an overnight stay in hospital. Lasers are usually used to remove birthmarks. A pulsed dye laser (which produces a yellow light) will be aimed at the patch of skin. The light passes harmlessly through the translucent layers of the skin and heats the underlying blood vessels that are causing the lesion.
The laser emits the light in pulses meaning that the heat in the blood is diffused without damaging the surrounding tissues. The heated blood will then congeal and the vessels will atrophy leaving a lightened colouring. The time taken for each session will depend on the size and extent of the birthmark and a session can be several minutes or several hours long.
In a single session, it is possible to see dramatic results, although several treatments will probably be needed. Overall, laser treatment can dramatically fade or remove birthmark stains with virtually no scarring.
Risks & Complications
As with any form of cosmetic surgery, there is an element of risk. As the procedure is non-invasive, the risks are smaller than with other forms of cosmetic surgery. The patient may feel a slight burning sensation when the laser hits the skin and there may be some pain in the skin. The major risks associated with birthmark removal surgery are those of scarring and infection.
The skin may also become patchy, with areas of darkened or lightened skin surrounding by spots of lighter pigmentation. However, these risks are very small and not particularly common.