A birthmark is a discoloration that appears on the skin of newborns or develops later in life. By nature, they are benign, although some people may find them unsightly. They vary widely in size, shape, location, and color. Historically, a number of interesting myths and legends have been associated with birthmarks, and they have unfortunately been linked with evil in some cultures.
These marks are sometimes referred to as naevi, referencing the Latin term used to describe benign lesions on the skin with clearly defined margins. Around one in three babies is born with some form of birthmark, most commonly a simple splotch or mole, and sometimes one will not manifest until later in life. No one is entirely sure what causes them; they are simply an illustration of the remarkable diversity of the human race.
A specific family known as vascular birthmarks are caused by malformations of the veins, which causes them to cluster very close to the skin. One notable form of this type is a port-wine stain, which takes the form of a large splotch that grows darker later in life. It is also possible to see what are known as “stork bites,” marks that manifest in the form of stippled reddish areas and usually disappear within a few years, or strawberry hemangiomas, raised areas of skin that look vaguely like strawberries.
Mongolian spots are dark brown to purple discolorations found on many people of African and Asian descent. Other forms include cafe au lait spots and an assortment of other distinctive markings with equally colorful names.
Some people choose to remove their birthmarks, because they find them unsightly or distracting. They can be treated with lasers, surgery, and other techniques, depending on the nature of the birthmark involved, and some faint scarring may be left behind. Others choose to keep or even enhance them, along with their beauty spots.
Historically, birthmarks were viewed as manifestations of a mother's thoughts, desires, and experiences during pregnancy. For example, some cultures believed that children would develop red, splotchy ones if their mothers witnessed fires. Others thought that they were a sign of witchcraft and the devil's influence, and some women who had them found themselves persecuted as witches because of the marks on their bodies.