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Port wine stains (also known as capillary malformations) are permanent red or blue-coloured birthmarks that are present from birth. They are quite common and happen in an estimated three out of 1000 babies. Some port wine stains are small, others can be quite large.
Port wine stains can be found anywhere on the body, but most often appear on the face, neck, arms, legs and scalp. They will grow as the child grows (not enlarge by themselves) and become darker in adulthood. They can make people feel self conscious or lose their self confidence.
The birthmarks are not contagious or genetic and normally there are no other related problems. If the port wine stain is on the forehead, eyelid or cheek, there is a rare risk of epilepsy or eye problems. If it is on the body or limbs, the affected limb may grow slightly larger than the other side.
Port wine stains are present from birth. If your child develops a birthmark at a later stage then it will be a different kind of birthmark. See our fact sheet
Haemangiomas of infancy (strawberry naevus).
If your baby has any birthmark, or new lesion appearing after birth, show it to your GP, paediatrician or Maternal and Child Health Nurse. It is especially important to seek medical advice if the lesion is located on the face, near the base of the spine or if a lesion seems to be
If necessary, your child will be referred for further investigations, such as an MRI of the brain, especially if the lesion is on the eyelid or forehead.
Port wine stains often need no treatment; however, some port wine stains can become very dry, so it is important to apply moisturising cream to them once or twice a day.
If it is necessary to have your child's port wine stain removed, laser therapy is currently the best treatment available for port wine stains.
If you choose to have laser therapy, it should start by the time your child is six months old.
See our fact sheet
Laser treatment for birthmarks.
Is there any chance my child's port wine stain will fade on
its own with time?
No – port wine stains are a permanent birthmark and will
only fade with treatment such as laser therapy. Port wine stains are different
to haemangiomas, which may look similar, but almost always disappear on their
own. Haemangiomas are also usually not present at birth.
My child has become very self conscious of her port wine
stain now she is at school, but I am not keen on laser therapy. What can we do?
Some children with port wine stain marks on
their face may develop self-esteem problems, especially if other children
comment on the mark. You can try to build your child's resilience to help them
cope better with comments. If it is causing a lot of distress, you could try
covering the birthmark with camouflaging make-up (e.g. Dermablend), which you
can buy online and in shops that sell cosmetics.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Dermatology, Surgery and General Medicine departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed June 2018.
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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.