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What Is It?

A vascular birthmark is a discoloration of the skin that is caused by blood vessels that don't form correctly. They are present at birth or appear shortly after birth. There are three major types of vascular birthmarks:

  • Salmon patch (nevus simplex) is a flat patch of pink or red skin, often small, usually with poorly defined borders. Salmon patches may be seen in as many as 1 out of every 3 newborns. They typically are found at the nape of the neck ("stork bite"), on the forehead between the eyebrows ("angel's kiss") or on the eyelids. Often, they are more noticeable during crying or changes in temperature.

  • Strawberry hemangioma is a raised bright red spot, often small, usually soft and compressible, with well-defined borders. It occurs most commonly on the face, scalp, chest or back. It may be present at birth but more often appears during the first one or two months of life. Strawberry hemangiomas occur in 1% to 3% of infants. In rare cases, they interfere with vital organs or are associated with life-threatening complications.

  • Port-wine stain (nevus flammeus) is a flat patch of purple or dark red skin, often large, usually with well-defined borders. It usually is on one side of the face or neck and is present at birth. (Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, has a port-wine stain on his forehead.) Port-wine stains affect less than 1% of infants. In rare cases, they are associated with other abnormalities.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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