Port Wine Stains: What You Need To Know

Port wine stains are a common type of birthmark, affecting 1 in 300 babies. Should you worry? What about treatments? Remedies? Here’s what you need to know.

Port Wine Stains- What You Need To Know Mama Natural

Let’s be honest. Babies don’t arrive fresh from the wombĀ looking like the Gerber baby, especially after natural birth.Ā They have vernix; they may be puffy if you had an epidural; they have bruises and rashes and hair in all the wrong places.Ā And what about birth marks?

Does your baby have aĀ port wine stain?Ā Is it cause for concern?

Read on for theĀ types of birthmarks babies typically have, causes of port wine stains, and available treatment options.

Birthmark, stork bite, or port wine stain? How to tell the difference.

Many babies are born with birthmarks of some kind. Whether or not you should be concerned depends on what kind of birthmark your baby has. There are three main types of birthmarks to consider:

Pigmented birthmarks

The most common type of birthmarks areĀ called pigmented birthmarks, and generally present as brown spots that can appear just about anywhere on the body. They are caused by clusters of pigment cells and are not a cause for concern.

Vascular birthmarks

Vascular birthmarks include stork bites, salmon patches, and angel kisses. These are often seen on the back of the neck (stork bites), or on the face or head (angel kisses). They are extremely common; as many as 50% of newborns have some type of stork bite. (source)

These types of vascular birthmarks are caused by a cluster of blood vessels and are usually pink or light red in color and flat. They usually fade or go away as a child ages.

Port wine stains

Port wine stains are a different type of vascular birthmark, which may require treatment. We’ll discuss port wine stains in more detail below.

What is a port wine stain?

Port wine stains (also called nevus flammeus)Ā are a type of capillary (small blood vessel) malformation. They’re characterized by pink or red patches of discolored skin, frequently on the neck or head, but can also be found on other areas of the body.

Port wine stains typically start off lightly colored at birth, but tend to get darker (if left untreated) as baby grows. ThisĀ vascular birthmark can range from barely noticeable, to more prominent, in which case, there may be treatment options you might want to consider, which we’ll discuss below.

If your baby has a port wine stain, odds are, it can be treated, and it will not develop into a more serious problem.

Port wine stainsĀ are fairly common, and you’ve probably seen them before, whether on friends or family, or even a few celebrities:

  • Tina Turner has a port wine stain on her right upper arm.
  • Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins has an extensive purple birthmark covering his left hand and arm.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet statesman, has a prominent port wine stain on his head, which extends to his forehead.
celebrities with port wine stains Mama Natural

Get free updates on baby’s first year! – Free Updates on First Year [In-article]

Sign me up!

Port wine stain birthmarks: what’s normal?

  • Color: port wine stains may be a red, pink, or purple birthmark.
  • Size: they can vary from just millimeters in size, to several inches in diameter. A port wine stain birthmark willĀ grow larger as baby grows.
  • Location: port wine stains are commonly seen on the face, head, and neck, though they can also be found on the torso, arms, or legs.
  • Development:Ā the vast majority of port wine stains are present at birth.
  • Treatment:Ā a port wine stain birthmark will not go away on its own.

Are port wine stains hereditary?

The prevalence of capillary malformations is 0.3%, or about one in 300, and they can be hereditary. (source)

It is not uncommon for parents with port wine stains to also have children born with port wine stains, as there is a genetic mutation responsible for the condition.

What causes a port wine stain?

Scientists have recently found that a single genetic mutation may be responsible for port wine stains, and the related but less common condition Sturge-Weber syndrome. (source)

Emerging research has shown that genes can be “switched” on or off, based on a number of factors, including lifestyle choices as well as predetermined susceptibilities. When it comes to port wine stains, scientists have discovered that following conception, a gene responsible for capillary malformations essentially gets “stuck” in the “on” position. (source)

When this genetic mutation occurs, blood vessels do not develop normally. These malformed blood vesselsĀ can then causeĀ a port wine stain birthmark, affectingĀ the blood vessels nearest to the skin, usually on the neck or head. When theĀ blood vesselsĀ become permanently dilated, they causeĀ a permanent “blush” appearance on the affected area.

Imagine a cluster of tiny blood vessels coming together, overcrowded, just under the surface of the skin. Instead of allowing blood to flow freely, delivering oxygen and nutrients to other tissues in the body, the capillaries dilate, causing increased blood flow near the surface of the skin. This is the cause of a port wine stain.

Port wine stains are a common type of birthmark, affecting 1 in 300 babies. Should you worry? What about treatments? Remedies Here’s what you need to know

What are treatment options for my childā€™s port wine stain?

WhileĀ each childā€™s port wine stain is different and treatment will depend on many factors, you doĀ have some options.

Port wine stains are most commonly treated with pulsed dye lasers.

Much like laser treatment of spider veins, treating port wine stains with a laser causes selective destruction of the problematic vessels. Following the procedure, the surrounding capillaries will rebuild during a healing phase, restructuring for correct blood flow.

Capillaries that are not sufficiently targeted may recover and continue causing problems, which is why multiple treatments are generally necessary. Other types of lasers, like infrared, may be used for dark or resistant lesions. (source)

The laser type and number of treatments, as well as how well the treatment works, can vary based on how dark or large the port wine stain is, as well as where it’s located.

Treatments areĀ relatively quick, out-patient procedures, and include a localized anesthetic, though general anesthesia may be recommended for uncooperative children or those with very large port wine stains.

It’s suggested that treatments occur every 2-4 weeks, until improvement is no longer observed.

The majority of patients will have more than 50% lightening of their [port wine stains.] Suboptimal response remains a significant obstacle observed in 20%ā€“46% of patients, and 14%ā€“40% have been reported to show minimal to no response, for diverse reasons.Ā Multiple treatments are the norm, and most patients require eight to ten treatments or more for optimal results. (source)

Treatment side effects

Keep in mind that port wine stains get darker and larger as a child grows, so it’s suggested that treatment begin in early infancy for the best chance of removal. Treatment may begin as early as several days after birth. (source)

Side effects of laser removal include:

  • redness,
  • bruising,
  • blistering,
  • and scabbing

In cases where hair is present at the site of treatment, bald patches may occur. Scarring is uncommon, but can occur if proper care is not taken to avoid it, so be sure to seek out a qualified medical professional.

Additionally, treatment on port wine stains near the eyes can lead to damage to the inner eye workings, particularly if the mark is very dark and requires more intensive laser techniques.

Suggested treatment for scabbing or blistering following removalĀ is petroleum jelly and moist bandages, though we suggest a more natural jelly like this.

If you’re interested in port wine stain removal, here’s what you need to know:

  • the earlier you seek treatment, the better
  • not all port wine stains will respond to treatment
  • be sure to find a qualified medical provider to perform the removal

Port wine stain complications

Because normal blood flow at the site of port wine stains is restricted, other complications can occur.

Port wine stain birthmarks can be related to a rare but more serious condition called Sturge-Weber syndrome,Ā a neurological condition associated with seizures, learning disabilities, one-sided weakness or paralysis, and glaucoma.

A child born with a port-wine stain on the face has approximately a 6% chance of having the Sturge-Weber syndrome,Ā and this risk increases to 26% when the port wine stain is located in the distribution of the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve. (source)

Sound complicated? Let’s break it down.

TheĀ trigeminal nerve is a cranial nerve located within the brain. Its primary responsibility is transmitting sensations from the face to the brain. TheĀ ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve performs sensory functions, including those related to the eyes and sinuses. (source)

When a port wine stain is located anywhere on the face, neck, or head, the risk of complications is increased due to the possibility of impeding the function of important nerves.

Other complications associated with port wine stains include:

  • issues with the eyes or sinuses
  • feeding problems or other oral health concerns
  • increased skin disorder developments, including lesions and nodules
  • a rare disorder calledĀ Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome which can cause a malformed limb

Helping kids cope

It’s important to help kids with port wine stains feel comfortable with their birthmark early on. Don’t avoid talking about it, but instead, help your child understand that his port wine stain is just a part of who he is.

As the child gets older (and if the birthmark is in a very visible area), it may even be helpful to practice discussing his unusual birthmark to prepare for uncomfortable conversations with strangers. You can help your child practice explaining his port wine stain as if he were talking with a stranger.

As children age, they may find they prefer to cover up their birthmark with makeup.

How about you?

Does your child have a port wine stain? Did you get treatment for it and just let it be? Share with us in the comments below.

Genevieve Howland

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 85,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

27 Comments

  1. I am 56 years old and have a port-wine stain on my right side of face, glaucoma and enlarged upper right lip. I have been receiving laser treatments on and off for most of my life however I want to avoid the upper lip from more swelling and would like to know what to avoid. For example, I have been told to not use Aspirin as this increases blood flow. What else should I consider? Are there any supplements, medications and skincare products to stay way from?

    Thanks,

    Ang

  2. My daughter is 10 months and has a PWS on her right cheek going back behind her ear. It’s light in comparison to some I have seen but her dermatologist suggested we start the laser treatments. I am worried about the side effects of the laser treatment though. The doc seemed to rush us into getting the treatment but I am not entirely sure it is a port wine stain because it does go away when you apply gentle pressure on the area and the outline is not solid at all. We would not be putting her under for the procedure due to the huge risks that carries but the thought of her being in pain is also very upsetting. We are trying to figure out what we should do for her… I think she is absolutely perfect the way she is but don’t want her to be teased as she gets older.

    • Hi, Rowan.
      I totally understand how you feel. My son was born with port wine stains on his face and on his limbs. We have been giving him pulse dye laser treatments since he was 3 months old. We were worried about the pain and after effects. The treatment is about 2 mins and the only reason my son cried is because he doesn’t like to be held down. As soon as it was over he stopped crying, he hasn’t had any pain and no complications. Due to covid we had to stop treatments but we have seen improvement. We travel to New York City. Dr Geronimo at the Skin and Laser Surgical Center is one of the best doctors in the country. He has full knowledge of port wine stains and the treatments.You can look him up on YouTube. Goodluck!

  3. Is it possibly caused by a low amount of space or amniotic fluid in the uterus? Anyone know of or can do do a study! The more character the better. I used to be self conscious if ppl thought I was hurt. And I didnā€™t want to think I was bleeding on them.. but I learned to just tell ppl about it and not take it personally. I love my birthmark. Itā€™s a part of me now ? id never get rid of it but I might put like a thing hollow geographic shape on it to make it even cooler ā˜ŗļø

  4. I am middle aged, and working through menopause right now. The perspiration from hot flashes and night sweats has caused my “creases” where I have the port wine stain to break down, into painful, weepy lesions. I would like to hear from anyone who has had to deal with damaged skin on the port wine stain.

    • I have a very large port-wine that covers most of my left arm, left side of chest, & left side of back…for quite a few years I’ve been getting small very painful sores & noone seems to be able to help me. Like I said they’re small in size but seem to be deep, I’ve tried everything and nothing helps! For the sores being so small the pain is awful & it can take weeks to go away, just to have another one appear…so frustrating!!! I’ve only been to one doctor and she told me it’s nothing, not one to complain so I just try and deal with it!

      • Someone mentioned to me that Boudreauxā€™s (Boo – d – ro) Butt Paste – found in the baby diaper rash department of the store – really helps with shingles.
        I know that shingles and PWS are not the same but it may help protect and heal the sores you are talking about.

        Boudreaux’s Butt Paste Diaper Rash Ointment | Maximum Strength | 4 Ounce (Pack of 1) Tube | Paraben & Preservative Free

  5. Our daughter is being treated for facial port wine stain using pulse dye laser at 3-4 week intervals since 3 weeks of age. No anaesthetic at all is used. The laser procedure is quite fast, albeit not very comfortable at the time. However we feel treatment is necessary to help keep her skin healthier in the longer term, it’s also inexpensive as it’s subsidised by the government. I would recommend to all parents of children with port wine stains to do their research and consultant a specialised dermatologist as early as possible as the best results of laser are as infants (when the surface area is also at it’s smallest). There are Facebook groups and international vascular birthmark foundations to help provide support and advice.

  6. I was born with a port wine birthmark starting from my armpit to my elbow. I love it so much and I don’t think I’d ever want to get rid of it. I personally didn’t enjoy the heavy tones of getting rid of this birthmark and would’ve appreciated some form of acceptance. There are children who can see this and develop self-image issues over this.

    • My daughter has one on her face and we haven’t removed it for this very reason. If she has a problem with it, she can have it removed when she’s able to tell us. We didn’t want to remove it and her think there’s something wrong with the way she looks. She’s beautiful with it and I agree that pushing cosmetic treatment relays the wrong message. If she had Sturge Weber and a laser would help something like that, I’d be all for it.

  7. My 14 month old son has a large port wine stain on his chin, right lower face and right ear extending to the neck. He has had nine laser treatments so far. The color is still pink but the treatment is to prevent hypertrophy later in life. Thankfully, our insurance covered it so it wasn’t financially draining. Our pediatric dermatologist advocated for us with the insurance company, arguing its a psychosocial issue, not cosmetic. He is otherwise healthy and cute as a button!

  8. Hi, I have a birthmark that starts from my eye and ends at my hair line. Recently parts of my birthmark (from my eyebrow to my hairline) have been turning purple,( it is normally a light pink or light red color) and gets very sensitive. Does anyone know what is going on?

  9. Super ironic to me that a blog seemingly advocating natural parenting and births would talk so extensively about (extremely financially draining) laser treatments to treat a cosmetic issue.

    • Treatment varies in cost. In Australia and New Zealand, for example it can be free. Many governments and insurance companies subsidise or fully pay for laser treatment because it is NOT a cosmetic issue. There are legitimate health issues related to port wine stains, some are touched on here but there’s more to it. Plus there are the psychological issues associated. Mental health being a legitimate reason to seek medical assistance whatever your issue is.

    • They can be painful or swell causing immobility. Light red and pink may not be an issue – but, there are legitimate medical reasons outside of cosmetic.

  10. Iā€™m 52 and have a very large port wine stain from my scalp to my neck, on my ear, behind my eyelid, inside my throat and ear, and most of the right side of my face. Iā€™ve developed nodules that sometimes become hard and it h. Itā€™s darkemed in color, and I have chronic sinus problems that often lead to migraines. Based on my research it looks like this is not uncommon and Iā€™m glad to finally know why I have this and the other things Iā€™m experiencing are actually related because I felt like a hypochondriac.

  11. I have a really sensitive skin and some serious hyper pigmentations on my forehead and must avoid the sun.I love dermalmd product and it gives my face a nice color and makes it really soft.

  12. I am 35 and have a large port wine stain on my neck, face and scalp that crosses both sides of my scalp. I never knew that there were health complications that could accompany my birthmark. From what I’ve been reading the last few days, it seems like most health concerns appear when very young… does anyone know if that is correct?

  13. My niece is 6 weeks old .her spot in in haired in ear but is right red Shiney & about size of cherry & is above skin not flat.Whatto do,so I can tell her mom. I said see Dr. NOW.

    • This may just be a Strawberry Nevis as port wine stain birthmark are flat. Strawberry Nevis will disappear overtime.

  14. My daughter has a port Wine Stain that covers her entire arm, hand, part of her chest and back. Your information was wonderful but please change the info on the size and mention that some people have this all over their body. Thank you.

    • Hi, I have a five year old now that was born with this and for years we have been going to doctors about this because shes in pain all the time her whole right arm upper right chest hand and fingers I need help can someone help me please.

      • There is a Vascular Birthmark Foundation in the USA with many resources. Plus groups on Facebook. They should be able to help you make contact with a doctor with the right experience to help you, regardless of where you may be located in the world.

    • Yes my son has it all over his right leg, right arm, left arm and torso

    • Hey Erica.
      I also have a port wine stain on my right hand and arm and also some on my chest and back also.

    • I have a very large port-wine that covers most of my left arm, left side of chest, & left side of back…for quite a few years I’ve been getting small very painful sores & noone seems to be able to help me. Like I said they’re small in size but seem to be deep, I’ve tried everything and nothing helps! For the sores being so small the pain is awful & it can take weeks to go away, just to have another one appear…so frustrating!!! I’ve only been to one doctor and she told me it’s nothing, not one to complain so I just try and deal with it!

  15. So cool to see this discussed! I always knew there had to be a cause but it always was explained to me that “some kids are just born with them” šŸ˜‰ I have two port wine stains one on my ankle and bottom calf and another on the thigh of the same leg! Luckily I’ve seemed to avoid the health problems associated with them, but pretty cool to see them explained šŸ˜€


Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required *

*

Hey Mama! Get my FREE baby updates every week!

  • Track baby’s development
  • Discover safe & natural remedies
  • Access free tools & resources

SIGN ME UP!

Not on Messenger? .