Vascular Birthmarks

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Birthmarks on the skin of a newborn or that develop on a child’s skin can be upsetting for parents. Most birthmarks appear on the skin when a baby is born. Some develop on a child’s skin after birth.

No matter when they develop, most birthmarks are harmless and many even go away on their own or shrink over time. Sometimes birthmarks are associated with other health problems. Talk to your doctor about whether this might be the case for your child.


There are many types of vascular birthmarks. Vascular birthmarks are caused by either increased or abnormal blood vessels within the skin. These blood vessels either do not form correctly or fill with too much blood, resulting in redness on the skin. There is nothing a woman can do during pregnancy to cause, prevent, or predict a vascular birthmark.

The most common vascular birthmarks are salmon patches, infantile hemangiomas, and port-wine stains. There are other vascular birthmarks that are less common.


A dermatologist can tell you what type of birthmark your baby has and whether treatment is recommended to prevent complications. You can seek out a pediatric dermatologist, who specializes in treating vascular and other birthmarks in children.

An early consultation can identify birthmarks that may require treatment and put your mind at ease about your child’s future treatment options. For example, a vascular birthmark near an eye might cause problems with your child’s eyesight later. A noticeable vascular birthmark on the face could affect your child’s self-esteem.


Salmon Patch (Nevus Simplex)

  • Pink or red, and always flat
  • Most common on the forehead, eyelids, nose, upper lip, back of the head, and upper back
  • A salmon patch on the lower back often appears in the shape of a butterfly


  • A salmon patch rarely requires treatment
  • Salmon patches on the face often, but not always, disappear by the age of two
  • Salmon patches on the upper and lower back may fade but may not completely disappear
  • Salmon patches on the scalp often persist throughout life

Superficial strawberry hemangioma

Infantile Hemangioma

  • May be bright red and raised on the skin (superficial hemangioma, like a strawberry), or a bluish red bump under the skin (deep hemangioma)
  • Some hemangiomas are both superficial and deep
  • Appear within the first few weeks of life
  • Most common in girls and premature babies, but all babies can have them
  • Can form anywhere on the skin
  • Tend to grow rapidly for the first two to six months of life, and then begin to shrink, flatten, and fade over the next

several years.

  • Some hemangiomas in certain locations, such as around the eye, nose or lips, or very large hemangiomas, may have complications and require treatment


  • Many infantile hemangiomas will fade or completely disappear without treatment
  • After diagnosing an infantile hemangioma, your dermatologist will determine whether treatment is needed or not and this depends on many factors
  • If your dermatologist recommends treatment, there are a few options, including medicine applied on top of the hemangioma (topical therapy), medicine taken by mouth (systemic therapy), medicine injected into the hemangioma (intralesional therapy) or even laser therapy
    • The most common systemic treatment is a beta-blocker called propranolol, a medicine FDA-approved for treatment of hemangiomas in infants and children. This medicine prevents the growth of new blood vessels and constricts existing blood vessels within the hemangioma, leading to a decrease in the amount of vessels under the skin and their red appearance on the
  • Your dermatologist may specifically recommend special evaluations and treatment for your baby in the case of potential disfigurement or medical complications caused by the hemangiomas:
    • A hemangioma near an eye can cause problems with your child’s eyesight
    • A large hemangioma on the face can be the first sign of a medical condition called “PHACES,” which can be a

sign of a heart defect, eye problems, or another medical condition.

Port-wine stain

Port-wine Stain (Capillary Malformation)

  • So-called because it looks like someone splashed or spilled a reddish purple liquid on the
  • Is present at birth
  • Flat in appearance and may be pink, red, or purplish in color
  • Grows proportionately with the child and the color tends to deepen, turning a deep dark red or purple
  • Can thicken and develop small bumps or ridges
  • Can appear anywhere on the skin but are most common on the face, scalp, neck, arms, and legs


  • A port-wine stain is permanent and will not fade with
  • Laser treatment is often recommended. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for port-wine

stains, laser treatment can lighten a port-wine stain by 50 to 90 percent.

  • Laser treatment is not right for every child. Your dermatologist can tell you if your child’s port-wine stain will respond to laser
  • Laser therapy is often started within the first few weeks of life. Many treatments (8 to 10 or even more) are

typically required.

  • Most port-wine stains are harmless, but in rare cases, they can be a sign of another medical condition
    • For example, children with large port-wine stains are closely monitored for growth
  • If bumps or ridges on the birthmarks bleed easily, they should be
  • A port-wine stain on the upper part of the face may carry risk of a condition called “Sturge-Weber Syndrome” and may require:
    • An eye exam to check for glaucoma, an eye disease caused by too much pressure in the eye. When caught

early, glaucoma can be treated.

  • An exam by a neurologist and/or an MRI or CT scan to determine the risk of seizures

A dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in treating the medical, surgical and cosmetic conditions of the skin, hair and nails. To learn more about vascular birthmarks, visit or call toll-free (888) 462-DERM (3376) to find a dermatologist or pediatric dermatologist in your area.

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Copyright © by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides

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