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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Granuloma is a generic term that refers to a small nodule. It can be any type of nodule, from benign to malignant. Granulomas occur throughout the body. Two types of granuloma apply expressly to the skin:
Pyogenic Granuloma. Pyogenic granuloma looks like small, reddish bumps on the skin that tend to bleed. It is caused by an injury to the skin. It is most frequently found on the hands, arms and face. In some cases, the nodule will spontaneously disappear. More often, the lesions need to be removed by surgery. There may be some scarring as a result of these treatments.
Granuloma Annulare. This type of nodule can occur in any person, but is more common in children and young adults. It is characterized by a ring-shaped lesion that is round and firm; red, white or purple skin around a clear crater of normal skin. It can appear individually or in groups. Most often, it appears on tops of hands and feet, elbows and knees. Most people have no other symptoms, but some may experience itchiness at the site of the lesion. Granuloma annulare can resolve itself and may or may not disappear over time without treatment. However, if the incidence is widespread or aesthetically undesirable, a dermatologist may prescribe a steroid cream or inject steroids just below the skin's surface to speed healing. Another successful treatment is PUVA, in which a medication called psoralen is given and then the area is exposed to ultraviolet light.