What are the causes and treatment options for port-wine stains?

Symptom Database

Port-wine stains, also known as vascular birthmarks, are a type of skin discoloration that can affect individuals of all ages. These birthmarks are characterized by their deep red or purple color, resembling the shade of a port wine, hence the name. While port-wine stains are generally harmless, they can cause significant emotional distress and self-esteem issues, particularly when they appear on the face. In this article, we will explore the causes of port-wine stains and the available treatment options for their removal.

Causes of Port-Wine Stains

The exact cause of port-wine stains is not fully understood. However, it is believed to be a result of abnormal development of blood vessels in the affected area. These birthmarks occur when the tiny blood vessels near the surface of the skin become dilated and do not constrict properly. This leads to a buildup of blood in the affected area, causing the characteristic red or purple discoloration.

Treatment Options for Port-Wine Stains

Laser Treatment for Port-Wine Stains

Laser treatment is the most common and effective method for removing port-wine stains. This non-invasive procedure uses laser technology to target and destroy the abnormal blood vessels without damaging the surrounding skin. The laser emits a specific wavelength of light that is absorbed by the blood vessels, causing them to heat up and collapse. Over time, the body’s natural healing process removes the damaged vessels, resulting in a significant lightening or complete removal of the birthmark.

Laser treatment for port-wine stains is typically performed in multiple sessions, spaced several weeks apart. The number of sessions required depends on the size, location, and depth of the birthmark. While laser treatment can be uncomfortable, most individuals tolerate it well with the use of topical anesthesia or cooling techniques to minimize discomfort.

Other Treatment Options

In addition to laser treatment, there are other treatment options available for port-wine stains, although they may not be as effective or widely used.

  • Cryotherapy: This involves freezing the birthmark with liquid nitrogen to destroy the abnormal blood vessels. However, cryotherapy is less precise than laser treatment and may cause scarring or pigment changes.
  • Surgical Excision: In some cases, surgical removal of the port-wine stain may be considered, especially if it is small and localized. However, this option is generally reserved for specific situations and is not commonly recommended.
  • Camouflage Makeup: For individuals who do not wish to undergo medical procedures, camouflage makeup can be used to conceal the port-wine stain. Specialized makeup products are available that can effectively cover the birthmark and provide a more even skin tone.

Port-Wine Stains on the Face

Port-wine stains that appear on the face can be particularly distressing, as they are more visible and can significantly impact an individual’s self-confidence. It is important to seek early treatment for facial port-wine stains to prevent potential complications and emotional distress.

Laser treatment is the preferred method for addressing facial port-wine stains. The use of lasers allows for precise targeting of the blood vessels while minimizing damage to the surrounding skin. Early intervention with laser treatment can lead to better outcomes, as it is easier to treat smaller and shallower birthmarks.

Port-Wine Stains in Babies

Port-wine stains can be present at birth or develop shortly after. When they occur in babies, it is essential to consult a pediatric dermatologist for evaluation and guidance on the appropriate treatment options.

Laser treatment can be performed on infants as young as a few weeks old. However, the number of treatment sessions may be higher compared to older children or adults. It is crucial to work closely with a healthcare professional experienced in treating pediatric port-wine stains to ensure the best possible outcome.


Port-wine stains are vascular birthmarks characterized by red or purple discoloration of the skin. While their exact cause is unknown, laser treatment is the most effective method for their removal. Other treatment options, such as cryotherapy and surgical excision, may be considered in specific cases. Facial port-wine stains and those in babies require early intervention and specialized care. If you or your child has a port-wine stain, consult a dermatologist to explore the available treatment options and improve the appearance and self-confidence.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
Add a comment