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 neurodermatitis or scratch dermatitis, this condition is caused by a chronic cycle of scratching and itching an area of skin that becomes rough or leathery. While it is not dangerous, Lichen Simplex Chronicus can be a difficult cycle to break because of the severity of the itchiness. It can occur anywhere on the skin, but is most commonly found on the ankles, neck, wrist, forearms, thighs, lower leg, behind the knee or on the inner elbow. It may also be associated with other skin conditions, such as dry skin, eczema or psoriasis.
Lichen Simplex Chronicus occurs more frequently among women than men and generally appears in people between the ages of 30 and 50. If you are unable to break a scratch and itch cycle somewhere on your skin or if the skin becomes painful, contact your dermatologist. Persistent scratching can lead to bacterial infection. The doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids and antihistamines to reduce the inflammation and relieve the itching. In some cases, antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications provide relief to sufferers. If scratching does lead to an infection, your dermatologist will likely prescribe an oral or topical antibiotic.
Some patients gain relief from the itching by applying a moisturizing lotion and covering the area with a wet dressing. Moisture helps the skin absorb the lotion. Peeling ointments containing salycylic acid may also be recommended to soften rough skin.