If your child has a birthmark that you're worried about, talk to your GP. He or she will examine your child and ask you questions about how the birthmark developed and whether it has grown. Usually your GP will recognise the birthmark and no further tests are needed. However, your GP may refer your child to see a specialist for further tests and any treatment.
If you or your child has a mole that has changed in appearance, your GP may refer you to a specialist clinic to have it checked and, if needed, removed. This is to check for signs of cancer.
Salmon patches, Mongolian blue spots and many moles never need treatment. They are either harmless or shrink and fade over time. However, port wine stains, strawberry marks and some moles may need treatment. This is usually if the birthmark causes problems or if it significantly affects your child’s appearance. The main treatments are listed below.
Most strawberry marks don’t need treatment. Treatment to shrink the birthmark is used for large, quick growing marks that might cause problems. These include those that affect your child’s breathing, feeding or vision, or his or her ability to pass urine or faeces.
Recently doctors have discovered that a medicine called propanolol can stop strawberry marks growing and make them smaller. This is a type of medicine called a beta-blocker which is usually used for treating high blood pressure. Propanolol is now the main treatment for strawberry marks but occasionally your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids or recommend laser treatment. Laser treatment may be used if the birthmark becomes ulcerated.
Port wine stains
Treatment for port wine stains can help the mark to fade, but may not be able to remove it completely. The main treatment involves using a laser. This is done over a number of sessions, spaced two to three months apart. The younger your child is when he or she starts treatment the better the results. Young children will need a general anaesthetic to have this treatment. See our FAQs for more information.
If your child’s port wine stain is small then he or she can also use cosmetic camouflage cream. This covers the birthmark rather than treating it.
If you have a very large mole or a number of moles, you may need to monitor them because there is a small risk of melanoma (skin cancer). Signs to look for include moles that get bigger, change shape or become uneven in colour and moles that itch, develop a crust or bleed. Practise safe sun care to make sure you don’t get sunburnt. If you do need treatment, your mole may be removed.
The reasons why some babies are born with birthmarks, or develop them in the first few months of life, aren't fully understood. However, birthmarks can’t be prevented.
Having moles may be something that is inherited, which means that if you have moles your child may also have them. Other birthmarks, such as port wine stains and strawberry marks, aren’t thought to be inherited.
Most birthmarks are harmless and some will fade as your child grows older. However, if the birthmark significantly affects your child’s appearance, or if it’s on the face or neck, it can sometimes cause problems.
If a strawberry mark grows quickly and it’s on your baby’s face, then depending on where it is, it can affect his or her sight, breathing or feeding. If this happens, the birthmark may need treatment to shrink it or slow down its growth. Strawberry marks on your baby’s nappy area can also affect how well he or she passes urine or faeces (stool) and therefore may also need treatment.
Sometimes a strawberry mark can become ulcerated or develop into an open sore, which can be painful for your child. If a birthmark looks infected, for example if it’s painful and swollen and there is discharge (pus), see your GP.
Some birthmarks can be very distressing because of the way they look, for example if they are large or on your child’s face or neck. This can affect your child’s social development, their relationships with others and how they feel about themselves. If you’re worried about the effect of a birthmark on your child, talk to your GP.
Some people use cosmetic camouflage cream to cover birthmarks, especially port wine stains. This can help to improve your child’s confidence and self-esteem. These are special creams that can make a significant difference to how a birthmark looks and keep it covered for long periods of time.
There are a number of different types of cosmetic camouflage and different shades of colour available. As it’s important to match your child’s skin tone exactly, it’s a good idea to seek help from someone trained to apply it. Two organisations that can help are the British Association of Skin Camouflage and Changing Faces. See our FAQs for more information about camouflage.
If your child has a very visible birthmark, you may sometimes find other people's reactions difficult to deal with. Your child may also have questions or find that other children make comments about their birthmark. This can affect your child’s social development, their confidence and how they feel about themselves. It's important to be prepared for this and to help your child to be confident in coping with situations they may find difficult.
There are support groups that can offer you information and advice and put you in touch with other parents or children with birthmarks. See our Resources for more details.
Are birthmarks painful?
Most birthmarks aren’t painful. However, sometimes strawberry marks can bleed or become ulcerated (this is where the skin over the birthmark breaks down). If this happens they can become painful.
If you think your child’s birthmark may be ulcerated or it’s painful, see your GP. If your child needs pain relief, he or she can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Your GP may prescribe antibiotics if the birthmark has become infected. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
Can laser treatment help to reduce my child's port wine stain?
Yes, although laser treatment doesn’t work for everyone.
The main treatment for a port wine stain is laser treatment. The light from the laser lasts just long enough to heat up the abnormal blood vessels causing the port wine stain. These are then destroyed without harming the tissues around them. Laser treatment doesn’t work for everyone. However, around half of all people treated using a laser find their port wine stain has faded a lot when the treatment finishes. Treatment for port wine stains on the face is usually more successful than treatment on the arms or legs.
Laser treatment for port wine stains can be carried out at any age. However, treatment may work particularly well when your child is young, as the skin on the port wine stain is thinner than in an older child.
Your child will usually have to go to a specialist centre in hospital to have laser treatment. Older children can have treatment using local anaesthesia. This completely blocks pain from the area and your child will stay awake during the procedure. Younger children and those having treatment over large areas of skin, or near the eyes, may have a general anaesthetic. This means your child will be asleep during the procedure.
Laser treatment can cause bruising and a change in skin colour but these are only temporary.
How do camouflage cosmetics work?
Camouflage cosmetics are specially designed creams that can cover birthmarks and blend in with your natural skin tone. There are organisations and specially trained people that can recommend the right cream for you and show you how to apply it properly.
Camouflage cosmetics aren’t the same as ordinary make-up. They are creams that are specially designed to blend in with your natural skin colour and help disguise your birthmark. However, they don’t work as a treatment because they won’t change the structure of your skin underneath the camouflage.
There is a wide range of different creams and brands that come in pre-mixed colours to match different skin tones. You may need to wear a complementary coloured cream as well. This acts as foundation to cover up very red or dark skin before you put on a natural skin matching colour. Once you have put camouflage cream on you then cover it with loose powder. You can take the creams off using soap and water or cleanser.
Camouflage cosmetics are different from other beauty products because they:
- are water resistant, which means you can go swimming with them on
- last for between eight and 16 hours before they need touching up or reapplying
- have sun protection cream in them
- can be used with other creams such as medicines
It’s important to match your child’s skin tone with the cosmetic camouflage. So it’s a good idea to seek help from someone trained to apply it, or a specialist organisation.
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- Haemangioma of infancy. British Association of Dermatologists. www.bad.org.uk, published December 2013
- Hogeling M, Adams S, Wargon O. A randomized controlled trial of propranolol for infantile haemangiomas. Pediatrics 2011;128(2):e259–66 doi:10.1542/peds.2010-0029
- Skin camouflage. British Association of Dermatologists. www.bad.org.uk, published September 2014
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- Capillary vascular malformation. DermNet (New Zealand Dermatological Society). www.dermnetnz.org, published 23 September 2014
- Different kinds of birthmarks. American Academy of Dermatology. www.aad.org, accessed 30 September 2014
- Melanocytic nevi. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 3 June 2013
- Infantile hemangioma. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 31 March 2014
- McLaughlin M, O’Connor N, Hamm P. Newborn Skin: part II. Birthmarks. Am Fam Physician 2008;77(1):56–60. www.aafp.org
- Getting help. Birthmark support group. www.birthmarksupportgroup.org.uk, accessed 2 October 2014
- Anaesthesia explained – 3rd edition. The Royal College of Anaesthetists, 2008. www.rcoa.ac.uk
- Product information. British Association of Skin Camouflage. www.skin-camouflage.net, accessed 2 October 2014
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