Port Wine Stain Birthmarks

Port wine stain

Port wine stain birthmarks get their name from their dark red, rosy brown or purple coloring, which is similar to the hue of a dark red wine, or port. They are fairly uncommon, occurring in about three of every 1,000 births.

This birthmark can be of most any size and occur on any part of the body. They are most common on the face. There is no standard shape, but it is usually irregular. If they occur on the face, stomach or back they usually do not cross the center line of the body.

A port wine stain may start off as a lighter pink patch, appearing similar to an angel kiss birthmark, and get darker over time. As the child grows, the birthmark will grow proportionally. In severe cases, port wine stains develop a thick and pebbly texture.

Cause of Port Wine Stain Birthmarks

According to the Vascular Birthmarks Foundation, these birthmarks are caused by a deficiency in the nerves that control the size of blood vessels. Because of this defect the vessels dilate more than they're intended to, causing blood to pool in one area, where it shows through the skin.

It is unknown why some babies develop this condition while most do not. There are no preventative measures that the mother can take before the child is born.


Some people with port wine stain birthmarks on their faces or other highly visible parts of the body may experience social difficulties in their developing years and even into adulthood. To prevent this from happening, many parents seek treatment for their children.

The most common surgical option is pulse-dyed laser treatment. This treatment helps fade the color of the birthmark so that it becomes less noticeable. Common results include fading of between 50 and 90 percent of the color. It is difficult to remove the port wine stain completely.

This procedure is FDA approved for both adults and children. While this treatment is relatively safe, there are some risks involved. The skin could become too light and leave the body looking patchy or a scar could form. Both problems occur in only a small number of patients.

Other treatment options include:

  • Skin grafting, where skin from another part of the body is used to replace the discolored skin
  • Removing the birthmark surgically, if it is a relatively small one
  • Tattooing over the area so that the stained skin is no longer visible

Many choose to cover their port wine stains with makeup instead of undergoing an invasive and painful procedure. It's important to discuss all available options with a doctor before proceeding.


A port wine stain itself is harmless, but it may be a sign of a more serious condition. Two disorders that can present themselves as port wine stains are Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome, which is a growth disorder; and Sturge-Weber syndrome, which is associated with neurological problems. Children with port wine stains near their eyes may be at risk for glaucoma. It's important to note that most children with port wine stains do not have these disorders.


In most cases, a pediatrician can diagnose a port wine stain by sight alone. If there is any doubt, a dermatologist can take a skin biopsy to be sure. If the baby exhibits symptoms of any of the disorders mentioned above, the doctor may wish to perform additional tests and take skull x-rays.

Further Reading

To find out more about port wine stains, speak to a doctor or turn to one of the following sources:

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Port Wine Stain Birthmarks