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Taking Care Of Birthmarks

It's not unusual for some to stop and stare at people with birthmarks. Just imagine the emotional toll that can take on the tens of thousands of kids in our country who are born every year with birthmarks serious enough to require medical attention.

Having been born with a port wine stain under her left eye, The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm knows first-hand the difficulties of growing up with very little information about treatment.

So she spoke with Dr. Milton Waner from the Arkansas Children's Hospital, who is considered one of the top surgeons in the world, specializing in the treatment of birthmarks.

The reason port-wine stains have such color. he explains, is quite interesting. He says, "If I were to take a piece of skin and actually count the number of vessels, I would get a normal number. In other words, a normal number of blood vessels are present within the skin. The only difference is that where there is a port wine stain these are dilated. Because they're dilated, they're absolutely filled with blood and it's the blood rushing through the skin that actually gives the skin this color."

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Laser treatments available can target the dilated blood vessels and shrink them to their normal size, he says.

But first and foremost, he says, it is important for parents to get the correct diagnosis if their child is born with a port wine stain.

"There is so much out there and so much misinformation," he says, "It's imperative that one visits the right physician. And a pediatric dermatologist will give you the right information. Also, there's so much good information out on the web. There's the Hemangiomas and Vascular Birthmark Foundation Web site led by Linda Shannon that has this information."

He also advises parents to seek a support group. He says, "There's so much that parents go through. There is an emotional side as well as a medical side. And we, as physicians, tend to neglect the emotional side. And to be able to get support from parents who have actually been through this or who are already going through this is absolutely imperative."

There are some serious indicators of some health problems that can be associated with port wine stains.

Dr. Waner says, "The most important is there can be eye problems. And occasionally, the port wine stain can involve the coverings of the brain. And this can lead to seizures and seizure disorders. So it's very important that where there's a birthmark that involves both the skin above and below the eye, one should seek out the help of an ophthalmologist to rule out eye involvement."

And he notes the earlier parents seek treatment for their child, the better. Dr. Waner explains, "When the child is young, the skin is very thin. With thin skin, the laser is actually able to penetrate a little deeper and the treatment seems to be more effective. So we absolutely emphasize early treatment."

A lot of people, including Storm, have come to be very comfortable with their birthmarks, but there are times when they might want to cover those, maybe for a business meeting or a special occasion.

Luckily, there have been advances in camouflage makeup. Makeup artist Diane Rupas demonstrated how to do so on Alexander Oshana, who agreed to be the model.

Rupas says there are certain things to keep in mind when covering birthmarks:

  • Makeup doesn't have to be expensive.
  • Make sure it's water-based and wax-free and that it has a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
  • Make sure you determine the color of your makeup in natural light.
  • Before you go to a department store, call ahead to make sure there is a salesperson who understands your special needs. Then make an appointment, if necessary.

Referring to her male model she explains, "Men don't normally wear makeup so with him, we're going to use less to tone down the impact of it. Also look for water-based as opposed to vegetable oil because it's thinner, more lightweight - easy to wear. He doesn't even know he has it on. Touch and feel is important, durability. He doesn't want to worry about his makeup coming off during the day and the port wine showing through. And kids are running around during the day, so you want it durable."

A new product called CoverBlend is easy to use. She says, "It came out a couple of years ago and it is a water-based product. Has a sunscreen in it, which is important especially with delicate skin after procedures."

Demonstrating a little on Alexander she notes, "If you have a product that's opaque, you don't need the green color correctors of the past because one coat of the product will cover it. Alex, he picked right up on it. He'll be fine doing this if he chooses to do it on his own."

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