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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A tattoo is created by injecting ink into the dermis (the second layer of skin) to incorporate a form of skin decoration. Tattooing is practiced worldwide and has often been a part of cultural or religious rituals. In Western societies today, tattooing has re-emerged as a popular form of self-decoration.
Technically, a tattoo is a series of puncture wounds. An electric device uses a sterilized needle and tubes to penetrate to a deeper layer of skin and inject ink into the opening it creates. The tattoo machine moves the needle up and down between 50 and 3,000 times per minute. The machine's operator, a tattoo artist, will use a flash or stencil of the design you select. Typically the design is outlined in black, shading is filled in and then solid areas of color are completed.
Any puncture wound is susceptible to bacterial or viral infection, which is why it is imperative that you work with a licensed tattoo artist who adheres to stringent infection control standards. Single-use needles and disposable materials should be used in conjunction with sterile procedures, such as the artist wearing latex gloves, cleaning the affected area after each stage of tattooing and using an autoclave to sterilize any materials or equipment that is re-used.
After the tattooing is completed, it is important to care for the damaged skin until it fully heals. Keep a bandage on the area for at least the first 24 hours. Wash the tattoo with antibacterial soap once daily and gently pat it dry. Avoid touching the tattoo and don't pick at the scabs as they form. You can also use an antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection. Do not use petroleum jelly because it may cause fading. If you experience redness or swelling, put ice on the tattoo. Keep your tattoo away from water and out of the sun until it has completely healed.
Complications from tattoos generally involve either an infection or an allergic reaction to the ink. If you have a skin condition, like eczema, you should probably avoid getting any tattoo.
A tattoo is designed to last for a lifetime. However, if your feelings about a tattoo change over time, there is a laser removal technology. The process tends to be expensive, requires multiple visits and can be painful. Essentially, the laser's energy is aimed at pigments in the tattoo. The laser emits short zaps of targeted light that reach the deeper layers of the skin. This stimulates the body's immune system to remove the pigment. It is critical that the procedure be handled in a sterile manner in order to prevent infection. Home care following laser removal treatments is similar to the care recommended for getting a tattoo.