[By Tania Hui]
A birthmark is a colored mark found on or under the skin that’s present at birth or develops shortly after birth and are often associated with superstitious folklore tales amongst different ethnic groups. Notably, they are definitely not due to what pregnant ladies do or ate during their pregnancies. Most birthmarks will fade with time while some might become more pronounced. Birthmarks may be caused by extra pigment-producing cells in the skin or by blood vessels that do not grow normally.
Although most are painless and harmless, in rare cases, some can cause complications or are associated with other conditions. All birthmarks should therefore be properly assessed by a pediatrician or dermatologist. When left alone, such inborn pigmentation can become as famous as the bearer themselves and those that immediately come to mind include former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who has a port wine stain on his forehead and blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe with her famous beauty mole. However, for the majority, facial birthmarks are cosmetically disfiguring and can affect a child’s social development and eventual integration into society. Fortunately, medical advancement has made removal of such marks possible so though you might be born this way, you definitely don’t have to live with it.
Port Wine Stain
Port wine stains are vascular malformations that affect about 3 out of every 1,000 newborn. It is a birthmark that literally looks like some red or maroon colored wine was spilled or splashed on the infant’s skin. Though they often start out looking pinkish at birth, port-wine stains tend to become darker (usually reddish-purple or dark red) in the teens and adulthood. They often change in texture over time, from being flat and smooth to a thickened, pebble-like appearance in later life. Port wine stains especially those on the face can make kids feel self-conscious, particularly during the already challenging preteen and teen years when kids are often more interested in blending in than standing out. If they are located above or around the eyes, they need to be properly assessed medically because such lesions may be associated with eye and/or brain problems.
Port wine stains won’t go away on their own but in our present time of modern aesthetics medicine, no one has to live with such disfiguring marks if he or she chooses not to. In fact, laser therapy with the V-Beam Laser can make many port-wine stains much less noticeable and give kids’ self-esteem a much-needed boost. The V- Beam is an FDA approved pulse dye laser that has the unique ability to selectively target blood vessels without adversely affecting the surrounding tissue. It is so safe and effective that it has been used successfully for the treatment of infants as young as a few weeks old. V-beam protects the skin during the treatment by a dynamic cooling device which sprays a cool liquid onto the skin before each laser pulse, cooling the upper layers of the skin and providing patients with an increased comfort and tolerance. If you have lived with your red face for years because there was no technology back then to treat the condition, it is now possible to achieve significant clearance or lightening after 6 to 8 sessions of laser treatments.
Contrary to popular belief, only a small percentage of moles known as congenital melanocytic nevi are present at birth. Majority of moles develop in the first 30 to 35 years of life and are known as acquired melanocytic nevi. Moles are more common in people with fairer skin and there is a genetic disposition to moles, often in the case of people with lots of them. Frequent unprotected sun exposure in childhood or perhaps even later in life promote the growth of moles. Electro-cautery is the simplest method for getting rid of troublesome and unsightly moles. It is however important for them to be properly assessed and ascertained to be benign by a qualified medical practitioner before removal. During the procedure, the laser seals the blood vessels and evaporates the tissue that is removed. Therefore, it is not necessary to cut the skin or to use sutures. Consequently, laser removal of moles is less likely to create scarring like other forms of mole removal. Post laser treatment, a scab forms in the area where the mole once was. This usually takes about 5 to 7 days to fall off on its own.
“Post laser care for the treated skin is as important as the procedure itself,” says Dr Jinly Wong, medical consultant with The Sloane Clinic. “There is a common condition known as post inflammatory hyperpigmentation or PIH that commonly affect Asians and it is important not to pick on the scab and apply adequate sun protection post treatment or otherwise you might end up with a dark spot in the area where the mole used to be.”
Nevus of Ota
Nevus of Ota is a bluish grey birthmark due to an abundance of pigment producing melanocytes located on the face and is of unknown origin. It is largely seen at birth and may increase in size and darken with age until its final appearance stabilizes in adulthood. Most frequently seen in Asians and being more common in women, many inflicted with this condition had suffered silently throughout the decades due to superstitious beliefs. While previously untreatable, significant reduction or total clearance of this hideous looking pigmentation can now be achieved with 6 to 8 sessions of the Pigment Laser. This laser is set at a wavelength that aims to destroy the dermal melanocytes located in the deeper layer of the skin. In the process, it is normal to experience pinpoint bleeding under the skin but not frank bleeding. The skin usually takes about 4 to 6 days to heal and the treatment can be repeated at 4 to 6 weekly interval.
Strictly speaking, freckles are not birthmarks. One can be more prone to getting freckles from their family genes and they often appear early in childhood and continue into adult life. These little brown flecks on the skin are caused by the sun so sun protection and avoidance of sun exposure are the only ways to prevent the development and further worsening in their appearance. Freckles can appear cutesy on the chubby cheeks of a child but once you hit adulthood, they are nothing but annoying spots that taint your complexion. Intense Pulsed Light also known as photo-facial or photo rejuvenation is an effective therapy that employs light energies at a particular wavelength to zap off these pesky spots for a clearer complexion with no downtime. In more severe cases, one might consider Fraxel Laser-resurfacing, a revolutionary fractional resurfacing laser which has less downtime and significantly reduces the risk of traditional ablative CO2 laser treatment.