Many philosophers tend to describe our minds as raw clay. Unlike other animals, this raw clay needs to be molded into a responsible and good person. While this is a purely mental perspective, the human body can be considered as a clear canvas when a baby is born. This canvas is colored with the palette of the world – and the society the person grows up in.
When a baby is born, their skin is devoid of any scars or any other ‘imperfections’; these are usually acquired through life and manifest as a physical indication of having gone through an experience called life. Different from these, there can be a CONGENITAL (present since birth) irregularity on a person’s body called a BIRTHMARK.
A birthmark is a physical anomaly present on a person’s body since birth or shortly after birth. People in the olden days assumed a connection between the occurrence of a birthmark and an event that took place in a previous life of the person – however, this myth has been debunked by the arrival of science with a proper explanation of what causes birthmarks.
Birthmarks can occur anywhere on the body – which is because they are an overgrowth of SMOOTH MUSCLE, FAT, FIBROBLASTS, BLOOD VESSELS, KEATINOCYTES OR MELANOCYTES. Birthmarks are normal and will not cause any health implications granted that the person maintains good hygiene.
What are the types of birthmarks?
Dermatologists have divided birthmarks into two categories – PIGMENTED birthmarks and VASCULAR birthmarks. While pigmented birthmarks are caused due to an excess in pigment concentrated at a spot, vascular birthmarks are a result of increased blood vessels.
The regular kinds of pigmented birthmarks observed are – Café au lait spot, mole and Mongolian spot. While the cause of all these three types is excess pigmentation, they appear different morphologically according to the location of the birthmark and the skin color of the person.
- Café au lait spot
This terminology has been derived from French – meaning “coffee with milk” – owing to the color of the spot. These birthmarks are oval and may be present as light brown, which is like a milk coffee color.
A mole is considered as being a MELANOCYTIC NEVUS – which is a tumour of the melanocytes which contains nevus cells. It is usually harmless (benign) and may appear to be raised or flat and differs in a colour range of brown to black depending on the skin colour.
3. Mongolian Spot
This is a birthmark that usually disappears in a few years following birth and is congenital. It has an irregular shape and resembles a bruise in a way that it appears to have a blue tinge.
On the other hand, vascular spots are also of three types, namely – Port-wine stain, stork bite and strawberry mark.
- Port-wine stain
This birthmark is named so because of its wine-red colour, much like that of Port-wine. These are caused due to the deficiency of the nerve supply to the blood vessels – causing blood to accumulate in the area.
2. Stork bite
Scientifically, these are called TELANGIECTATIC NEVUS – small dilated blood vessels which may be visible through the skin. This is the most common type of birthmark, present in about half of the babies.
3. Strawberry mark
Despite its colloquial name, this birthmark is a benign tumor due to the swelling of epithelial (skin) cells. These shrink in size as the child ages and becomes obscured by the age of 10.
When can a birthmark pose a serious threat?
As stated before, most birthmarks are harmless and pose no health complication – but some can act as an indication of an underlying disorder. Such as – a café au lait spot, if more in number, can be an indicator of NEUROFIBROMATOSIS, which refers to tumors in the nervous system. A Mongolian spot usually resembles a bruise, but if it is present in various locations, it can be an incidence of child abuse and necessary steps must be taken and proper authorities must be mentioned about the same.
A Port-wine stain on the forehead may point towards a neurological and skin disorder called STURGE-WEBER SYNDROME and persons with this birthmark may be more prone to epilepsy and eye diseases leading to vision loss.
Birthmarks are no longer considered to be imperfections, nor are they related to superstitious beliefs. Birthmarks represent the uniqueness of a person and should only be viewed in a positive light and not be shamed for the same. Still, it is the individual’s responsibility to maintain good practices and keep a watch on the type of birthmark. If any irregularity is observed, it must be examined by a professional to rule out the possibility of a serious disorder.