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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Also known as follicular keratosis, this is a hereditary skin disorder that causes goosebump-like lesions on the back of the arms, thighs or buttocks. The patches of bumps tend to get dry and itchy, particularly during the winter months. Keratosis pilaris occurs at any age. Because it is hereditary, there is no method of prevention. In some cases, it goes away on its own over time; in other cases, the condition is chronic. Keratosis pilaris is not harmful, however, it is very difficult to treat.
Keratosis pilaris is caused by a build-up of keratin, a protein in the skin that protects it from infection. Keratin plugs up hair follicles causing the rough, bumpy rash. Treatment options include prescriptions for:
- Medicated creams or lotions with 12 percent ammonium lactate that softens the affected skin.
- Moisturizers (urea) that help loosen and remove dead skin cells.
- Topical corticosteroids for short-term, temporary relief of symptoms.
- Topical retinoids that increase cell turnover, which reduces the plugging of hair follicles.
To help alleviate symptoms, be sure to keep the affected area moistened at all times and avoid harsh soaps.