Birthmarks are a common physical characteristic that can be either a spot or a skin discoloration. While many birthmarks are harmless, some people may feel self-conscious or uncomfortable with them, and as such they may seek treatment. If you are one of these people, you may be wondering whether birthmarks can be removed. The answer is yes, but the method and effectiveness will depend on the type of birthmark and individual circumstance.
In this article, we will explore the different types of birthmarks and the options available for their removal.
Types of Birthmarks
Birthmarks are normally categorized into two types: pigmented birthmarks and vascular birthmarks. Pigmented birthmarks are usually darker than the surrounding skin, and they are caused by an increased concentration of melanin in the skin. Vascular birthmarks, on the other hand, result from an irregularity in the blood vessels in the skin.
The following are the different types of pigmented birthmarks:
- Cafe-au-lait spots: This type of birthmark is usually brown and appears on the skin at birth or in the first few months of life. It is round and typically gets larger as the child grows. Generally, at least four cafe-au-lait spots are an indication of a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis.
- Mongolian spots: Mongolian spots look like bruises and are usually blue-grey. They are most common in babies with darker complexions, and usually disappear by the age of four.
- Congenital melanocytic nevi: These birthmarks are usually brown-black or tan and can vary in size from a few millimeters to over 20 centimeters. They can be present at birth or develop soon afterwards, and are caused by an excess of pigment-producing cells in the skin.
The following are the different types of vascular birthmarks:
- Port-wine stains: Port-wine stains are typically red or purple, and appear at birth or shortly afterwards. They usually develop on the face and grow larger over time.
- Hemangiomas: These birthmarks are usually red, and may protrude from the skin. They are caused by a collection of blood vessels in the skin. Some hemangiomas resolve without any intervention, while others may need treatment.
Birthmark Removal Options
There are three main birthmark removal options:
- Laser therapy
- Natural remedies
Lasers are often used to remove birthmarks because they are non-invasive and generally less scarring. The type of laser that is used will depend on the birthmark and its pigmentation.
For pigmented birthmarks, the most effective lasers are the Q-switched ruby, alexandrite or Nd:YAG lasers. These lasers target the melanin pigment in the birthmark, breaking it down into smaller particles which can be absorbed by the body. For vascular birthmarks, the pulse dye laser is the most commonly used laser. It targets the blood vessels in the birthmark, causing them to heat up and coagulate, leading to the birthmark fading over time.
Multiple laser sessions are usually required to completely remove a birthmark. The number of sessions required will depend on factors such as the size and location of the birthmark. Some people may experience mild pain, swelling or redness in the treated area after laser therapy.
In some cases, birthmark removal may involve surgical excision. This method is typically used for larger birthmarks that can’t easily be treated with laser therapy, or for birthmarks that are in a problematic location (such as the eyes, nose or mouth). Excision involves the birthmark being removed completely from the skin, and the area being stitched up afterward. Although this method can lead to scarring, the scar should fade over time.
Some people prefer to try natural remedies for birthmark removal. While these remedies have not been scientifically proven, they may be worth trying if you are unwilling or unable to undergo laser therapy or surgery.
The following natural remedies are thought to be effective:
- Castor Oil – apply to the birthmark a couple of times a day, and massage gently for about 10 minutes.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – mix equal parts of apple cider vinegar and water, soak a cotton ball in it and apply it to the birthmark for about 15 minutes every day.
- Tea Tree Oil – mix tea tree oil and water in equal parts, and apply it to the birthmark three times a day until the birthmark fades
Risks and Benefits of Birthmark Removal
While many people are happy with the results of their birthmark removal, it is essential to weigh the risks and benefits before undergoing the process.
- Scarring: Scarring is a very common side effect of both laser therapy and surgery. Scarring is usually minimal, but it can be more noticeable for people with darker skin.
- Pain: Laser therapy can cause discomfort and mild pain. Pain can generally be managed with over the counter medication.
- Infection: All types of surgery carry a risk of infection. After your surgery, your doctor will provide you with information about how to reduce the risk of infection.
- Improved self-confidence: Removing a birthmark can result in improved self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Reduced risk of health problems: In some cases, birthmarks can be a sign of a more serious health concern. Removing the birthmark may allow any potential health problems to be identified and treated more readily.
In conclusion, birthmarks can indeed be removed. The method of removal will depend on the type and location of the birthmark, as well as the individual’s personal circumstances. If you are considering birthmark removal, talk to a doctor or dermatologist to determine the best course of action for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Q: Can all types of birthmarks be removed?
- A: No, not all birthmarks can be removed.. Some types of birthmarks will require more extensive treatments in order to be removed, and even then, complete removal may not be possible.
- Q: Is birthmark removal covered by insurance?
- A: It depends on your insurance plan. Many insurance plans will cover birthmark removal if it is deemed medically necessary. Cosmetic procedures are generally not covered by insurance.
- Q: Is laser therapy painful?
- A: Laser therapy can be uncomfortable, but most people find it tolerable with the use of over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
- Q: Can birthmarks grow back after being removed?
- A: While it’s not common, a birthmark can grow back after being removed. This often happens when the removal process was not completely successful.
- Q: Are there any natural treatments for birthmark removal?
- A: Although not scientifically proven, some people have found success with natural remedies such as apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, and castor oil.
- “Birthmarks.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 21 June 2018, Accessed 10 Sept. 2021, <https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/birthmarks/symptoms-causes/syc-20355939>.
- “Birthmarks and Vascular Anomalies Center.” Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, Accessed 10 Sept. 2021, <https://www.childrenshospital.org/centers-and-services/programs/a-_-e/birthmarks-and-vascular-anomalies-program>.
- “Birthmark Removal.” American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Accessed 10 Sept. 2021, <https://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/birthmark-removal>.