What are birthmarks?
For those who have to live with red or brown spots, often in awkward visible places on the body such as the face or buttocks, birthmarks can be embarrassing and constant drain on confidence.
Birthmarks are generally either red or brown. Red marks are made up of lots of tiny blood vessels, whilst brown ones are made up of brown pigment (melanin). These vary greatly in size and occur in different parts of the body.
Facial birthmarks are common and cause the most concern to patients. Lasers and Intense Pulsed Light systems have revolutionised the treatment of birthmarks, and even the very young may be treated.
Red birthmarks (most commonly Port Wine Stains) may be treated with the Pulsed Dye laser, Nd:YAG laser and with the IPL, all of which progressively shrink blood vessels causing the birthmark to fade. Multiple treatments are always required.
Flat birthmarks tend to respond better than raised ones, although even in this latter group it is worthwhile having a test treatment.
Laser Skin Care is the only clinic in Perth to offer the Cynosure Cynergy multiplex laser for treatment of Port Wine Stains and other vascular birthmarks and lesions. The Cynergy laser combines pulsed dye and Nd:YAG lasers and allows them to be used sequentially for improved results and added safety.
The skin is protected by a special chilled tip attached to the handpiece, or with chilled air and application of a clear water based gel. During treatment a stinging sensation is felt, but this can be lessened with the use of an anaesthetic cream if necessary. It is reassuring that the Cynergy laser is one of the most comfortable lasers we have used. After treatment the skin is generally blotchy and some areas of blistering or swelling may be noted. Bruising may also be seen.
Over a period of 6 weeks the blood vessels reduce in size, becoming correspondingly less visible through the skin.
The Q-Switched YAG Laser and the Ellipse IPL give us a choice of devices to achieve the best results. Cafe au Lait birthmarks are the most common brown birthmark. They are flat, light brown and well circumscribed. Other birthmarks include Nevus of Ota (common on Asian cheeks) and Becker’s Nevus (relatively resistant to laser treatment). Laser treatment of birthmarks is quick and easy, with the flicking of the rubber band being the usual description of how the treatment feels.
Immediately after treatment the area looks blotchy for several hours, while the brown area darkens in colour. After 1 to 2 weeks the darkened pigment literally “washes off” to leave behind a much lighter colour.
Most birthmarks will remain this lighter colour, and you have the option of repeating the treatment to further reduce the colour. Some birthmarks will return to the original colour (repigmentation), and occasionally the colour will be temporarily darker (hyperpigmentation). It is essential to use a good quality sun screen after treatment to reduce the risk of repigmentation or hyperpigmentation. A bleaching gel may be recommended.
Pigmented Birthmarks – multiple treatments are always necessary.