Kids Health Info

Port wine stains

  • 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.

    Signs and symptoms of port wine stains

    • The birthmark is a flat area, red to blue in colour. The colour often becomes a darker, purple colour with age. They may become thick and lumpy after many years.
    • They vary in size from small to large body regions. While they do not grow to cover a larger area of your child's body, they will grow in proportion to your child as they grow older.
    • They tend not to cross over the midline (an imaginary, vertical line drawn down the centre of the body). This means that a port wine stain can be found on the left or right sides of the body, but not crossing from one side to the other.

    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).

    When to see a doctor

    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 growing larger.

    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.

    Treatment for port wine stains

    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.

    Key points to remember

    • Port wine stains are permanent birthmarks.
    • They are not contagious or genetic, and rarely lead to more serious problems. 
    • Port wine stains can become dry and need to have moisturising ointment applied.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    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.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.

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Disclaimer
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.