People choose to undergo birthmark laser removal for cosmetic reasons or, in some cases, for specific medical reasons. The reasons for removal vary according to the type of birthmark, its location and its size. Similar factors also affect the method used to remove the birthmark.
Reasons for Birthmark Removal
The majority of birthmarks are small, harmless, and create no physical problems. Some, however, appear on the face, neck or other prominent areas. If these birthmarks are particularly noticeable, removal might become an option in order to avoid self-consciousness about the birthmark's appearance.
In other cases, a birthmark might actually cause physical problems. This is most common with a particular type of vascular birthmark called a hemangioma. Also known as a "strawberry" hemangioma, these tumor-like growths occur due to an abnormal proliferation of capillaries. Hemangiomas often grow quite rapidly in the first twelve to eighteen month's of a child's life, then begin to receded until they disappear, usually within a few years.
Sometimes hemangiomas grow very quickly and become quite large. If they are located on the face, they can interfere with vision, feeding or breathing, and thus require removal. Hemangiomas can also occur internally, in which case they must be removed promptly to avoid interference with internal organs.
Options for Birthmark Removal
In serious cases, such as extremely large or internal hemangiomas, traditional surgery is the best option for birthmark removal. For most birthmarks, though, laser birthmark removal is safe, effective and much less costly.
Laser birthmark removal works best for vascular birthmarks. These include:
- Port wine stains
- Macular stains ("stork bites")
Treatment with a medical laser can seal off or remove the collections of capillaries that cause these birthmarks. It can also stop them from growing larger. Port wine stains are commonly treated with lasers because, over time, they tend to become thick and bumpy, resulting in a mark that is both unattractive and uncomfortable.
Pigmented birthmarks also respond to laser treatments, but not as reliably or as permanently as vascular birthmarks. Pigmented birthmarks include:
- Cafe au lait marks
- Mongolian spots, or nevi of ota
These types of birthmarks usually do not cause any medical problems. Cafe au lait stains (light brown marks) or nevi of ota (blue or black marks) can be quite large and cause self-consciousness, leading individuals to desire removal. Moles are typically not harmful, but if they are particularly large, removal might be recommended. They should also be closely monitored for signs that they might be malignant.
Laser treatment for pigmented birthmarks removes the excess melanin that causes the mark. Sometimes the laser treatment can actually make the mark darker. In other cases, the mark might become lighter, but then appear again after a short time as melanin in deeper skin layers moves up. When this occurs, repeated laser treatment can be repeated to remove the deeper layers of pigment, eventually reducing or removing the mark.