Navigation

Birthmarks


Expert reviewer, Dr Anton Alexandroff, Consultant Dermatologist
Next review due October 2022

Birthmarks are markings on your skin. You’re either born with them or they can appear very soon after birth. Birthmarks can vary in size and colour, depending on which type you have.

A baby reaching for a toy

About birthmarks

Birthmarks are very common in newborn babies. There are lots of different types.

  • Vascular birthmarks are caused when skin cells or blood vessels don’t develop properly. These include salmon patches (stork bites), port wine stains and strawberry marks.
  • Pigmented birthmarks are caused by the clustering of cells that make the dark pigment (melanin) that gives your skin its colour. These birthmarks include moles and Mongolian blue spots.

Some birthmarks fade as your child gets older, but others are permanent. Most birthmarks are harmless, but if your child’s birthmark is affecting their appearance a lot or causing health problems, it may need to be treated.

Types of birthmark

Salmon patch or stork bite

Salmon patches are one of the most common types of birthmark, affecting around two out of every five babies. These flat red or salmon-coloured marks are usually found on your baby’s eyelids, top of the nose, top lip, back or neck. When they’re on the back of your baby’s neck, they’re called stork bites. Stork bites don’t always fade but tend to be covered by hair.

Salmon patches tend to be more noticeable when your baby’s crying. If they’re on your baby’s face, they’ll usually fade as your baby gets older.

Strawberry mark

Strawberry marks usually appear in the first few weeks after your baby’s born. They can appear anywhere on your baby’s body but are more likely to appear on their face or neck. The marks feel soft if you touch them and look raised on your baby’s skin. They’re often bright red – the colour of strawberries – which is how they get their name.

Strawberry marks are more common in:

  • girls
  • babies born early (premature babies)
  • multiple births (twins or triplets)

A strawberry mark starts off as a small, red patch and grows quickly into a bright red lump. It usually stops growing by the time your baby reaches three months old. It then slowly shrinks and fades over a few years.

Most strawberry marks are harmless and don’t need any treatment. But they can be more troublesome if they’re on your baby’s face or nappy area. A strawberry mark may need treatment if:

  • it grows very quickly
  • it becomes ulcerated (develops into open sores)
  • it’s on your baby’s face and affects their vision, breathing or feeding

Port wine stain

A port wine stain appears when small blood vessels don’t form properly near the surface of the skin. They’re usually present when your baby’s born, but sometimes they can appear later in life. They are flat, dark-red or purple marks (the colour of port wine). They vary in size and shape and can appear anywhere on the body, but usually on the face.

Port wine stains don’t shrink or fade naturally. As a child grows, their port wine stain grows in proportion with them. The birthmark may get lumpier or darker as adults get older.

Very occasionally, port wine stains are linked to other medical conditions. A port wine stain near your eye may be linked to raised pressure in your eye, called glaucoma. In a rare condition called Sturge–Weber syndrome, a port wine stain on the face may be linked to abnormal blood vessels in the brain.

Moles

Some babies are born with moles, but moles can also appear during childhood or young adulthood. Moles form when large numbers of pigment-making cells (called melanocytes) group together. Melanocytes make a dark pigment called melanin, which gives skin its brown colour. Moles vary in colour and size and can be raised or flat.

Some moles have hairs growing out of them.

You may be able to have a mole removed, but most moles are best left as they are. Very occasionally, a mole can become cancerous – see our section, Treatment of birthmarks.

Mongolian blue spot

A Mongolian blue spot is a blue or grey area of skin that appears on your baby’s bottom and lower back. Your baby may be born with it or the birthmark may appear in the first few weeks of your baby’s life.

A Mongolian blue spot is caused by pigment-making cells (melanocytes) becoming trapped deep in your baby’s skin. It can be mistaken for a bruise. Mongolian blue spots are more common in babies with darker skin and babies of Asian origin.

Mongolian blue spots usually disappear by the time your baby reaches one year.

Diagnosis of birthmarks

Most birthmarks don’t need to be checked by a doctor. But if you’re worried about your child’s birthmark, book an appointment to see your GP. You should also see your GP if a birthmark:

  • changes shape, size or colour
  • bleeds
  • gets itchy or sore

Your GP will examine your child. They’ll usually be able to identify the birthmark by seeing how it looks and grows. If your GP thinks the birthmark needs treatment, they may refer your child to a paediatrician, dermatologist or a specialist clinic.

Treatment of birthmarks

Salmon patches, Mongolian blue spots and many moles never need treatment. But port wine stains, strawberry marks and some moles may need to be treated.

Strawberry marks

Medicines called beta-blockers can make strawberry marks smaller. Your child will usually be given propranolol liquid, especially if the strawberry mark is around their eyes or mouth. Timolol can be given as a solution or gel straight onto the skin if the strawberry mark isn’t very deep.

Sometimes your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids or recommend laser treatment instead.

Port wine stains

Laser treatment is the only treatment for port wine stains. It may not remove the birthmark completely but will make it less noticeable. It often works better in younger children because their skin is thinner and the port wine stain is less lumpy at this age. See our FAQ, Can laser treatment lighten a port wine stain?

If your child’s port wine stain is small, they can use cosmetic camouflage creams to cover it up. Camouflage cream is a special type of make-up that’s available on prescription. It’s matched to the colour of your child’s skin. See our section, Living with birthmarks.

Moles

Most moles don’t need any treatment and are nothing to worry about. But you may be able to have your mole removed if it’s raised above your skin and you keep catching or banging it.

If you have a very large mole or several moles, you need to monitor them because there’s a small risk of melanoma (skin cancer). Signs to look for include moles that:

  • get bigger
  • change shape
  • become uneven in colour
  • itch
  • ooze pus (or develop a crust)
  • bleed

Too much sun exposure and sunburn can increase your risk of skin cancer. Practise safe sun care to make sure you don’t get sunburnt. If you need treatment for skin cancer, your mole may be removed.

Causes of birthmarks

Doctors don’t yet know why some babies have birthmarks and others don’t. But birthmarks can’t be prevented.

You can inherit the tendency to have moles – if you have moles, your child may have them too. You may also have more moles if you’re exposed to the sun a lot as a child. Moles are most common in people with fair skin, especially those who’ve been sunburnt a number of times.

Other birthmarks, such as port wine stains and strawberry marks, aren’t thought to be inherited.

Complications of birthmarks

Most birthmarks are harmless and some will fade as your child gets older. But if the birthmark affects your child’s appearance a lot or it’s on their face or neck, it can sometimes cause problems.

If a strawberry mark is on your baby’s face, it can affect their sight, breathing or feeding. This will depend on where it is and how quickly it grows. Strawberry marks on your baby’s nappy area can affect how well they pee or poo.

Sometimes a strawberry mark develops into an open sore, which can be painful. If a birthmark is painful and swollen with discharge (pus), see your GP.

Some birthmarks can be very distressing because of the way they look, especially if they’re large or on your child’s face or neck. If you’re worried about how a birthmark is affecting your child, talk to your GP.

Living with birthmarks

Some people use cosmetic camouflage cream to cover their birthmarks, especially port wine stains. These special creams can completely change how a birthmark looks and keep it covered for long periods of time. You can buy several different types of cosmetic camouflage in many different colour shades. It’s important to match your child’s skin tone exactly, so it’s a good idea to seek help from someone trained to apply it.

If your child’s birthmark is very noticeable, it can be hard to deal with other people's reactions. Your child may also have questions as they get older. This can affect your child’s social development, confidence and how they feel about themselves. It's important to be able to answer your child’s questions and help them to become confident in coping with any difficult situations.

Support groups can offer you information and advice and put you in touch with other parents or children with birthmarks. See our section, Other helpful websites.

Frequently asked questions

  • Most birthmarks aren’t painful. But sometimes strawberry marks can bleed or develop into an open sore (ulcer). If this happens, they can hurt a lot. Some birthmarks bleed and feel sore if they’re scratched. This can increase the risk of an infection, which may need to be treated with antibiotics.

    If your child’s birthmark starts to bleed:

    • apply gentle pressure with a clean cloth or tissue to stop the bleeding
    • cover with a sterile dressing

    If the bleeding doesn’t stop, contact your GP surgery for advice or go to your nearest A&E department.

  • Yes, although laser treatment doesn’t work for everyone.

    Laser treatment can make a port wine stain look a lot lighter, but it doesn’t work for everyone. The treatment is usually given every two to four weeks until there’s no more improvement.

    Laser treatment often works better in younger children. This is because their skin tends to be thinner and the port wine stain is smaller.

    Your child will usually have to go to a specialist centre in hospital to have laser treatment. Older children can usually have treatment using local anaesthesia. This completely blocks pain from the area and your child will stay awake during the procedure. Younger children and anyone having treatment over large areas of skin or near the eyes, may need a general anaesthetic. This means your child will be asleep during the procedure.


About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. This is because we believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and wellbeing.

Our information is guided by the principles of The Information Standard and complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. We are also a proud member of the Patient Information Forum.

PIF member logo  This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

Learn more about our editorial team and principles >

Related information

    • Child health. Oxford Handbook of General Practice. 4th ed. Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published online April 2014
    • Vascular birthmarks: salmon patches, port wine stains and strawberry naevi. British Association of Dermatologists. www.bad.org.uk, reviewed January 2017
    • Port wine stain. British Association of Dermatologists. www.bad.org.uk, updated December 2016
    • Haemangioma. BMJ Best Practice. bestpractice.bmj.com, last reviewed July 2019
    • Moles. The MSD Manuals. www.msdmanuals.com, last full review/revision May 2019
    • Haemangiomata of skin. Patient. patient.info, last reviewed December 2016
    • Capillary malformations. The MSD Manuals. www.msdmanuals.com, last full review/revision May 2019
    • Melanocytic naevi (moles). British Association of Dermatologists. www.bad.org.uk, updated September 2017
    • Intradermal and compound naevi. Patient. patient.info, last reviewed July 2016
    • Congenital dermal melanocytosis (Mongolian spot). Medscape. emedicine.medscape.com, updated March 2019
    • Haemangioma of infancy. British Association of Dermatologists. www.bad.org.uk, updated February 2017
    • Brightman et al. Laser treatment of port-wine stains. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol 2015; 8:27–33. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, accessed August 2019
    • Skin camouflage. British Association of Dermatologists. www.bad.org.uk, updated April 2017
    • Malignant melanoma of skin. Patient. patient.info, last reviewed August 2015
    • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guideline NG12. www.nice.org.uk, last updated July 2017
    • Having a baby with a visible difference. Changing Faces. www.changingfaces.org.uk, accessed August 2019
    • Communicating with confidence. Changing Faces. www.changingfaces.org.uk, accessed August 2019
    • What is skin camouflage? Changing Faces. www.changingfaces.org.uk, accessed August 2019
    • FAQ: Can I do the skin match process myself? The British Association of Skin Camouflage. www.skin-camouflage.net, accessed August 2019
    • Infantile hemangiomas. The MSD Manuals. www.msdmanuals.com, last full review/revision May 2019
  • Reviewed by Natalie Heaton, Specialist Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, October 2019
    Expert reviewer, Dr Anton Alexandroff, Consultant Dermatologist
    Next review due October 2022



Did our information help you?

We’d love to hear what you think. Our short survey takes just a few minutes to complete and helps us to keep improving our health information.

ajax-loader