Mayo Clinic Health Library

Slide show: Birthmarks

Updated: 10-13-2011

Most birthmarks are harmless

Pictures of birthmarks, including cafe au lait birthmark and port-wine stain birthmark

Contrary to their name, birthmarks aren't always present at birth. Some, such as a hemangioma, develop weeks later. And though most are permanent, a few types of birthmarks fade as a child grows.

Most birthmarks are harmless, but some may require treatment for cosmetic reasons or because of rapid growth. Still others may be a sign of an underlying disease. Take this visual tour of cafe au lait spot, port-wine stain and other common birthmarks, and find out when your child might need to see a doctor.

Cafe au lait spot

Image of cafe au lait spot

As the name implies, these permanent birthmarks are light and coffee colored. Cafe au lait (ka-FAY oh lay) birthmarks are very common, and they can occur anywhere on the body. Usually, no treatment is needed.

A single cafe au lait spot or a pair of spots is common with this birthmark. Multiple birthmarks of this type, however, can occur in neurofibromatosis or other genetic conditions. If your child has more than six cafe au lait spots, ask your doctor whether your child should have further evaluation.

Congenital nevus

Image of congenital nevus birthmark

Present at birth, a congenital nevus is a large, dark-colored mole that typically appears on the scalp or trunk of the body. It can range in size from a couple of millimeters to a number of centimeters in diameter, covering large areas.

Children with a congenital nevus — especially those with a large-sized nevus — are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer as adults. If your child has this type of birthmark, consult your doctor so that he or she can check for skin changes.

Slate gray nevus

Image of a slate gray nevus birthmark

A slate gray nevus, previously called mongolian blue spot, is a large, blue-gray birthmark that's sometimes mistaken for a bruise. It's more common in darker skinned babies, especially those of Asian heritage, appearing on the lower back and, less commonly, on the buttocks, legs or arms. This birthmark tends to fade during childhood and requires no treatment.

Port-wine stain

Image of port-wine stain birthmark

A port-wine stain is a permanent birthmark that starts out pink, but turns darker red or purple as a child grows. Most often, a port-wine stain appears on the face and neck, but it can affect other areas of the body. The involved skin may thicken slightly and develop an irregular, pebbled surface as a child grows.

The physical changes and its cosmetic appearance can cause both medical problems and emotional stress for a child. Laser therapy is the usual treatment of choice. Most port-wine stains aren't associated with other conditions, but sometimes they occur with Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome or Sturge-Weber syndrome, which requires regular medical evaluation.

Salmon patches/stork bites

Image of salmon patch birthmark

Sometimes affectionately called stork bites or angel kisses, salmon patches are reddish or pink patches that are often found above the hairline at the back of the neck, on the eyelids or between the eyes. These marks are caused by collections of capillary blood vessels close to the skin.

Salmon patches on the forehead, eyelids or between the eyes usually fade with time. Those on the nape of the neck usually don't fade but are covered by hair. Salmon patches don't require any type of treatment.


Image of a hemangioma birthmark

A hemangioma birthmark is a pink or red birthmark that grows during the first year of life and then recedes over time. By age 10, a child who had a hemangioma in infancy may retain only a mark of the growth. If needed, the mark can be cut out or removed by laser.

Treatment isn't usually required, but fast-growing hemangiomas sometimes require medication or laser treatments. Problems do arise if the growth is near the eye (difficulty with vision), in the throat (difficulty breathing), or near the mouth or groin (difficulty with feeding or elimination). Also, if a child has three or more hemangiomas on the skin; has an hemangioma that's in the middle of the face, neck or scalp; or has a large hemangioma that covers a segment of the face, evaluation is recommended to search for internal hemangiomas, which occasionally occur, or other conditions.

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