What are port wine stains?

A port wine stain is a red mark on the skin that may resemble the colour of port wine. They appear when abnormal blood vessels (capillaries) form. Although most port wine stains are present at birth, there have been a few reported cases of port wine stains developing later in life.

They can appear on any part of the body at birth. Over time port wine stains may grow, thicken and develop raised areas.

The birthmarks are not contagious or genetic and normally there are no other related problems.

How common are port wine stains?

Port wine stains are relatively common, with about 1 in 300 babies being born with them.

How are port wine stains treated?

Port wine stains often need no treatment but do need managing.

Tips to manage port wine stains

  • Some port wine stains can become very dry, so apply moisturising cream to them once or twice a day.
  • Port wine stains need to be protected from sunlight. Use a high factor sun cream and protective clothing to avoid exposure.
  • It is important to see a specialist consultant soon after birth to ensure a port wine stain is monitored and any changes are recorded.

Options for removing or covering up port wine stains

The location of a port wine stain may make you feel self conscious, in which case removing or covering them up might be the best way to deal with them.

  • Advances in treatment indicate early laser treatment can be very effective in reducing or eliminating port wine stains.
  • Smaller port wine stains can be covered using special camouflage waterproof makeup.

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. If the lesion is located on the face, near the base of the spine or if a lesion seems to be growing larger, it is especially important to seek medical advice.