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Freckles, Sunspots, and Birthmarks

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Freckles, Sunspots, and Birthmarks

January 24, 2011

Written for Scars1 by Michelle Alford

Freckles and birthmarks provide a uniqueness and individuality that many people love. In fact, well placed moles have been termed “beauty marks” and have often been imitated with makeup or piercings. However, many people would prefer to erase these markings. For them, new treatments can help to fade or erase unwanted blemishes.

Around twenty percent of all babies are born with birthmarks. The most common types of birthmarks are hemangiomas—which are pale pink vascular birthmarks—and light brown pigmented patches called Cafè-au-lait spots. Pigmented birthmarks are permanent, but about fifty percent of hemangiomas fade and disappear over time without treatment.

Vascular birthmarks are caused by an increased number of blood vessels in the skin. In addition to the common pink hemangiomas, vascular birthmarks can appear dark red or purple. These darker birthmarks, commonly called port-wine stains, start as pale pink and grow darker and thicker over time. They usually appear on the neck and face, and unlike hemangiomas, they will not vanish without treatment; however, most can be successfully treated with vascular-specific lasers. These lasers will select specific blood vessels without affecting the surrounding vessels or tissue and can be used without adverse effects on people of any age.

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  • Pigmented birthmarks can both form on only the outermost layer of skin or can penetrate deeper layers of skin. Birthmarks that have penetrated further into the skin can be more difficult to erase, but most can still be successfully treated. Nevi, or moles, are a type of pigmented birthmark that forms when clusters of cells grow together instead of being spread evenly in the skin. They are typically thicker than other birthmarks, and often become darker when exposed to the sun or during pregnancy.

    Despite the common misconception that people are born with freckles, freckles are not birthmarks. They’re actually a type of scarring caused by overexposure to the sun. The number of freckles you acquire at an early age is a good indication of how susceptible your skin is to UV damage. People who freckle easily are more likely to develop sun spots or skin cancer later in life and should be especially diligent about regularly applying sunscreen.

    Accumulated exposure to the sun’s radiation will result in sunspots. Sunspots are larger than freckles and are less likely to fade in the winter. They most often occur on the face and hands and tend to become larger and more common as people age.

    Modern treatments can significantly lighten the appearance of pigmented birthmarks, freckles, and sunspots. Pigment-specific lasers are able to match the laser wavelength to that of the targeted freckle or sunspot and remove it without affecting the surrounding skin.

    All skin discolorations and abnormalities should be examined for melanoma by a board-certified dermatologist prior to undergoing treatment.

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    Photo by: Lisa Humes

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