What are birthmarks?
There are two basic types of birthmarks. Red or vascular birthmarks are most commonly seen, and are caused by an irregularity in the blood vessels. These include port wine stains and hemangiomas. Pigmented birthmarks, known as nevus (singular) or nevi (plural), are brown in color and are often less pronounced. Many birthmarks fade away before children reach school age, but they may remain and undergo changes over time.
How are birthmarks removed by lasers?
Pigmented birthmarks or lesions are best treated with Q-switched lasers. The laser emits the light in pulses meaning that the heat in the blood is diffused without damaging the surrounding tissues. The heated blood will then congeal and the vessels will atrophy leaving a lightened coloring.
Vascular birthmarks like portwine stain are best treated with V beam lasers. The V-beam laser treatment delivers an intense but gentle burst of light to the skin. The light is absorbed by the blood vessels. When blood vessels absorb the energy of the laser, they are forced to seal and close off which effectively eliminates the lesion.
How many treatment sessions will it take to remove the birthmark?
The time taken for each session will depend on the size and extent of the birthmark and a session can be several minutes or several hours long. Portwine stain requires more intensive laser treatments. In a single session, it is possible to see dramatic results, although several treatments spaced apart by several months will probably be needed.
Overall, laser treatment can dramatically fade or remove birthmark stains with virtually no scarring.
Is the laser treatment painful?
The treatment is nearly painless and usually requires no anaesthetic. Only a slight tingling sensation is usually felt. A chilled gel applied to the skin and an optional topical anaesthetic prevent discomfort. Patients must wear protective eyewear to shield their eyes from the therapeutic flashes of light.