Understanding Birthmarks and Port Wine Stains in Infants


Are you seeking information about port wine stain in infants? This article will give you the information about the causes of port wine stain in infants, as well as treatment options.

What Is a Port Wine Stain?

A port wine stain in infants is also known as naevus flammeus. It is part of a larger class of birthmarks known as vascular birthmarks (birthmarks resulting from the blood vessels), which includes other birthmarks like hemangioma, strawberry birthmarks and café au lait spots. About 10% of all babies have some type of a vascular birthmark, while port wine stains occur in approximately .3% of the population (3 out of every 1000 babies).

A port wine stain is a birthmark that involves dilation of superficial and deep capillaries in the skin. The port wine stain typically occurs on the face; however, port wine stains can be found anywhere.

The port wine stain itself is either a red or red-purple colored patch of skin. The stain often appears to be a pink color in infants, which progresses to a darker red or purple as the child grows. Infant and childhood port wine stains are typically flat with no textural variations from the skin; however, in adults, the stain may begin to have what is known as "pebbling" - the formation of a lumpy, pebble-like texture.

What Causes Port Wine Stain in Infants?

There is some evidence that there is a genetic element to port wine stains.

In rare cases, port wine stains may be a sign of either Sturge-Weber syndrome or Klippel-Trennaunay-Weber syndrome; however, both syndromes are characterized by a number of symptoms besides port wine stains, such as seizures, hypertrophy of bony tissue, glaucoma and other symptoms.

All birthmarks should be assessed by a medical professional at birth.


A port wine stain is always present at birth. They will not appear later in life. Port wine stains are typically diagnosed by visual examination of the skin. In extremely rare cases where a syndrome is suspected, the doctor may also wish to test eye pressure or perform a skull x-ray or skin biopsy.

Treatment of Port Wine Stains

In most cases, treatment of port wine stains is not medically necessary; however, many parents prefer to have the birthmark treated because they worry about social factors associated with facial birthmarks.

A number of treatments for port wine stains have been tested. Some of the treatments include:

  • Freezing
  • Surgery
  • Radiation
  • Tattoo
  • Flashlamp pump dye laser

When considering the above treatments, parents may wish to take into account the risks of the treatments versus the benefits and outcomes. In most cases, complete removal of the port wine stain is rare; however, doctors have experienced some success using lasers. After treatment with a flashlamp pump dye laser, there is marked improvement in the stain in approximately 80% of the cases. In 20%, there is no improvement. If you do choose to have the stain treated, doctors have experienced the most success with the following:

  • A newer birthmark - the older the child is, the more difficult a port wine stain may be to treat.
  • Birthmarks on the face - sometimes birthmarks on the body or extremities resist treatment.

It is important to note that laser treatment is almost always a temporary solution. Over time, the blood will re-pool in the location of the birthmark, making it necessary for ongoing treatment throughout life to keep the birthmark faded. The typical recommendation is to keep an eye on the area, and at the first sign of re-pooling, repeat one or two laser treatments. With maintenance treatments throughout life, there is a much better chance of the birthmark remaining faded.


In port wine stains not associated with a syndrome such as Sturge-Weber syndrome or Klippel-Trennaunay-Weber syndrome, complications arising from port wine stains are rare; however, they do occur. These complications typically occur later in life, and may include disfigurement, deformity and bleeding. Port wine stains can be progressive, with increased pebbling, darkening and thickening of the skin. If the port wine stain is near an eye or the mouth, there is the possibility that it could eventually lead to loss of function; however, it is important to note that such complications are rare. If the port wine stain is around the mouth, thickening of the gums and lips may occur, which will require treatment.

Non-Medical Options

Many parents opt to use cosmetics to cover or minimize port wine stains. There are a number of cosmetic cover-ups designed to cover birthmarks of this type, as well as other skin conditions. For instance, Smart Cover makeup covers the stain, and has even been used to provide full coverage of things like tattoos.

If your baby is born with a port wine stain, keeping the above information in mind can help you to make appropriate decisions throughout your child's life.

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Understanding Birthmarks and Port Wine Stains in Infants