Birthmarks are abnormal skin discolorations in spots that are either present at birth or appear shortly thereafter. They can be flat or slightly raised from the skin. They can be any number of colors, including red, brown, black, tan, pink, white or purple. Birthmarks are generally harmless. There are two major categories of birthmarks: pigmented birthmarks and red birthmarks.
Pigmented Birthmarks can grow anywhere on the skin and at any time. They are usually black, brown or skin-colored and appear singly or in groups. They can be moles (congenital nevi) that are present at birth, Mongolian spots, which look like bluish bruises and appear more frequently on people with dark skin, or café-au-lait spots that are flat, light brown or tan and roughly form an oval shape.
Red Birthmarks (also known as macular stains) develop before or shortly after birth and are related to the vascular (blood vessel) system. There are a number of different types:
- Angel kisses, which usually appear on the forehead and eyelids.
- Stork bites, which appear on the back of the neck, between the eyebrows on the forehead, or on eyelids of newborns. They may fade away as the child grows, but often persist into adulthood.
- Port-wine stains, which are flat deep-red or purple birthmarks made up of dilated blood capillaries (small blood vessels). They often appear on the face and are permanent.
- Strawberry hemangiomas, composed of small, closely packed blood vessels that grow rapidly and can appear anywhere on the body. They usually disappear by age nine.
- Cavernous hemangiomas are similar to strawberry hemangiomas but go more deeply into the layers of the skin. These can often be characterized by a bluish-purple color. They also tend to disappear naturally around school age.
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Skin. It is the largest organ on the human body. It creates a protective layer against heat, light, the environment, injury and infection. It helps regulate the body's temperature; stores water, fat and Vitamin D; prevents entry of bacteria; and acts as a sensory organ. On average, an adult has between 18 and 20-square feet of skin, which roughly weighs six pounds.
There are three layers to skin:
Epidermis. This is the outer most layer that sloughs off dead skin cells and acts as a protective barrier against foreign bodies, infections and the sun. The epidermis also contains the cells (melanocytes), which are responsible for skin pigmentation.
Dermis. The middle layer of skin, the dermis houses hair follicles, sebaceous (oil) glands, sweat glands, capillaries (small blood vessels) and lymph vessels. It is held together by a protein called collagen. Sweat glands are part of the body's cooling system. The dermis also contains touch and pain receptors.
Subcutaneous. This is the deepest layer of skin containing larger blood vessels and nerves. It is made up of a network of collagen and fat cells and plays an important role in the manufacture of Vitamin D, protecting against injury and conserving body heat.