Have you ever looked at your birthmark and wondered why it is there? No matter what cause birthmarks and where they are found on the skin, they can make you look unappealing at times. A simple birthmark can also create a ‘cobblestone effect’ as you grow into an adult. Hence, a lot of people opt for birthmark removal these days. Do you also wish to get your birthmark removed in a safe and effective way with minimal side effects? Then, laser treatment can be the best option for you. Here is a quick guide for lessening or improving the appearance of birthmarks through laser resurfacing.
What Are Birthmarks?
Before exploring the details of the laser treatment, it is important to develop a clear idea about birthmarks. A birthmark is a common ‘congenital irregularity’ that appear on the skin at birth or during the first few weeks of life. They not only occur on any part of the body but also vary widely in size, shape, color, and appearance. Typically, these areas with pigmented discolorations or blemishes appear in the forms of marks, spots, or bumps that are red, pink, purple or brown in color.
Though the underlying causes of birthmarks are yet to be known, some possible ones include the defective migration of cells during fetal development, gene mutations, and heredity. While some birthmarks are permanent and get larger over time, others can fade away gradually with age. Birthmarks are usually benign lesions that do not require medical treatment. However, they are often removed as they are not aesthetically desirable.
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Types Of Birthmarks
Birthmarks can be of following two categories (1):
1. Pigmented Birthmarks
These are caused due to ‘dermal melanosis’ in which clusters of melanin pigment are deposited in a concentrated area in the deeper layers of the skin. These small (around ¼ inch in diameter) marks can be either flat or elevated. Most common types of pigmented birthmarks are Mongolian spots, Cafe-Au-Lait spots, and congenital moles or brown birthmarks.
2. Vascular Birthmarks
These result from a visibly high concentration of blood vessels underneath the skin, which appear either flat or raised. Usually, vascular birthmarks are of variable sizes with colors like light pink, red, or dark purple. They can be found evolving with age and named as Strawberry marks (infantile haemangiomas), Salmon patches / Stork Bite Birthmarks, Port wine stain (capillary malformation birthmarks), etc.
Different Birthmark Removal Methods
Nowadays, birthmark removal has become a pretty common practice and it can be safely done for all parts of the body. A variety of approaches can be taken to it based on the type of marks and the nature of tissue to be removed. These include:
1. Laser Therapy
Performed by a dermatologist or surgeon, this treatment is suitable for both pigmented and vascular birthmarks.
These oral medications are most effective in reducing the size or appearance of vascular birthmarks.
These anti-inflammatory medications are also suitable for vascular birthmarks and can be either taken orally or administered through injections.
Birthmarks can also be removed surgically (scalpel surgery or tissue expansion) if they are about to damage the healthy tissue surrounding them (2).
What Is Laser Birthmark Removal?
Laser birthmark removal is the safest and the most effective non-surgical technique used widely for treating both pigmented and vascular birthmarks. A fractional laser (a highly concentrated pulsating beam of light) is modulated for strength, which breaks down the pigmentation clusters or the abnormal blood vessels until they fade. Depending on the type and color of lesions to be eliminated or faded away, either an ablative or a non-ablative laser is used. Being an extremely targeted procedure, it neither affects the surrounding skin of the patient nor leaves any scar (3).
How Does It Work?
The laser device emits a narrow beam of light having multiple pulses a few millimeters across. This is targeted to the specific area of the skin, which needs to be treated. For pigmented birthmarks, the built-up pigment cells are broken up into tiny fragments by the light energy and disposed of through the immune system of the body naturally. For vascular birthmarks, the troubled blood vessels are heated up and collapsed by the light energy. This puts a stop to the blood flowing into that area and the blood vessels get absorbed into the skin eventually.
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Is It Safe?
Laser treatment is considered as the safest and the most advanced method for birthmark removal as the selectively targeted light energy does not cause any lasting damage to the skin. It can also be used for eliminating unwanted birthmarks from delicate and sensitive parts of the body.
Anybody with good overall health and undesirable birthmarks can opt for this treatment. However, she must not prone to keloid scarring.
How To Prepare
If you are about to undergo the laser birthmark removal treatment, stop smoking at least 4 weeks prior to it. Make sure that you avoid too much sun exposure and blood thinning medications. Also, moisturize the specific area of the skin regularly and take antiviral medications as prescribed by the physician.
- It is usually a ‘tolerable’ procedure with a flicking or stinging sensation against the skin. However, your physician can use a topical numbing cream if required.
- Then, a high-intensity light of a targeted wavelength is applied to the skin of the treatment area with the help of a hand-held flashgun.
- Finally, good sun protection is applied to the treated skin in order to shield it from the harsh rays of the sun.
Time And Sessions
Laser birthmark removal is a very short procedure that takes only 15 to 20 minutes to finish. Based on your individual treatment needs, you may need to undergo a series of 4-6 sessions, carried out 6-8 weeks apart, for fading the marks fully.
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Your skin will be sensitive and sore immediately after the treatment. But these are temporary and will go away after 24 hours. It is common to experience mild swelling, redness, and bruising in the area(s) of treatment, which also subside within a couple of days automatically. If you get an ablative laser treatment, your skin will peel and crust for 3-4 weeks until the mark fades out completely. Keep it moisturized to reduce flakiness. Make sure that you stay away from the direct sunlight for the first few weeks after the treatment. Wearing protective clothing, accessories, and a sunscreen with SPF 40 or more is recommended for a few months.
Recovery And Downtime
Based on the type of laser used for your birthmark removal, the recovery time can range from 1 to 3 days only.
Risks And Complications
No serious side effects are associated with laser resurfacing for birthmark removal. Though scarring may occur, it is actually quite rare.
Duration Of Effects
It is a highly effective procedure with permanent results.
You may need to shell out $1,000 – $3,000 for removing birthmarks through laser treatment.
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- “Birthmark”, MedicineNet.com
- “Everything You Need to Know About Birthmarks”, Healthline.com
- “Birthmarks: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments”, SknClinics.co.uk