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What are Vascular Birthmarks?

A birthmark is a mark on the skin that is seen from birth or soon after birth. A vascular [VAS-kyuh-ler] birthmark is caused by blood vessels that did not form the right way. One out of every ten babies has this kind of mark. Most of the time, they are harmless and painless.

The most common vascular birthmarks are:

  • Port wine stains
  • Macular [MAH-kyoo-LUHR] stains
  • Hemangiomas [hi-man-jee-OH-muh]

Port Wine Stains

A port wine stain can be seen at birth. It is often on a child’s face. It is flat and can be pink, red, or purple. It might get darker and thicker with time. It will get bigger as your child grows. It will not go away on its own, but it might fade.

Because it is close to the top of the skin, a port wine stain might bleed more easily than the skin around it. That puts your child at more risk for infection.

Port wine stains are sometimes linked to problems with the brain or development.

Macular Stains

A macular stain can be seen at birth. It is often found between the brows or on an eyelid. Macular stains may fade on their own by age 2.

Macular stains are not linked to problems with the brain or development.


A hemangioma is a kind of vascular birthmark that is present from birth, but might only show up after birth, when the birthmark moves to the top of the skin.

A strawberry hemangioma is bright red like the fruit. It will be on top of your child’s skin, like a bump, and usually on the head. Sometimes these marks break open and bleed. This will happen more if it is in the diaper area.

A deep hemangioma starts deeper in the skin and can make the skin swell. Most turn a dark blue that is almost purple.

During your child’s first year, a hemangioma may grow big. After the first year, they often will start to shrink. By age 10, your child’s hemangioma will likely be a faint mark. Sometimes, a bit of extra skin will stay behind.

Most hemangiomas are on the skin. Some kids who have many hemangiomas might have an internal condition.


Port wine stains and macular stains do not hurt or itch. They are usually pink, red, or purple. The borders of a macular stain are not well defined.

Hemangiomas show up in the first 2 weeks of a child’s life. At first, they look like a bump or bruise. If they break open, it can be painful.

When to See a Doctor

You should take your child to see their doctor if the mark shows up after birth. You should also check with the doctor, if the birthmark

  • Changes
  • Bleeds
  • Cracks
  • Gets infected
For a hemangioma, take your child to the doctor if the mark gets in the way of your child’s eating, eyes, or breathing. 


A port wine stain is caused by tiny blood vessels called capillaries [KAP-uh-ler-eez] that did not form the right way. They will never get better. This is why a port wine stain does not fade.

Macular stains happen when these tiny blood vessels dilate or swell. The swelling usually goes down over time.

A hemangioma is caused by a problem with the cells that make up the walls of the blood vessels.

Diagnosis and Tests

Sometimes it is hard to tell what kind of birthmark your child has. Your child’s doctor will be able to tell by how it looks.

  • Port wine stains start as flat patches that are pink or red and get darker.
  • Macular stains start as flat patches that are pink or red and often fade.
  • Strawberry hemangiomas are bright red, and mostly fade by age 10.
  • Deep hemangiomas might have no color but are often blue.
If your child has a large port wine stain or the port wine stain is on your child’s face, the doctor may want to have your child tested for other problems. They can also help you find a specialist in birthmark removal.


Most macular stains and hemangiomas do not need treatment. You should treat them as you would the rest of your child’s skin.

You may choose to treat other kinds of birthmarks because they are disfiguring or hurting your child. Port wine stains can be treated with laser therapy or covered with make-up. Laser therapy may not remove the whole stain, but can help. The sooner your child is treated, the better their outcome might be.

When left alone, hemangiomas may scar less. If a hemangioma blocks your child’s mouth or eyes, medicine will be used to slow its growth. If that does not work, surgery might be used. To change the way it looks, laser therapy might be used.

In this treatment, blood vessels absorb yellow, blue, or green light from a strong beam of light called a laser. The color, strength, and length of time the laser light is used can help remove different kinds of birthmarks. Laser therapy for birthmarks comes with risks such as pain, swelling, bleeding, and scarring.


Port wine stains and macular stains cannot be prevented. They are not caused by anything a mother did or ate while she was pregnant. Doctors don’t think that these birthmarks run in families.

Hemangiomas are very hard to prevent. They are more common in premature babies and when the mother’s placenta was not normal. A few are linked to chorionic villus [KAWR-ee-on-ik VIL-uhs] sampling, which is a test done during pregnancy to find out if a baby has a condition such as Down’s Syndrome or cystic fibrosis [SIS-tik fahy-BROH-sis].
A vascular birthmark is a mark on the skin caused by blood vessels that didn’t form the right way. Some types of vascular birthmarks include port wine stains, macular stains, and hemangiomas.