A port-wine stain is a patch of skin that a baby is born with, usually over their face, neck or scalp, which looks pink or pale purple.
What is a port-wine stain?
A baby's skin is normally pretty much the same colour all over. But with a port-wine stain the baby has a patch of skin which looks different to their usual skin colour. It is usually a pink or pale purple patch on one side of their scalp, neck or face. That's why they're called 'port-wine': because port (the alcoholic drink) is usually dark red.
How common are they?
About 3 in 1,000 babies are born with a port-wine stain. Most occur on the face but any area of the skin can be affected. It affects boys and girls equally and it doesn't seem to run in families.
What do they look like?
Port-wine stains vary in size from a few millimetres across to a big patch covering almost all of one half of someone's face. Their colour can vary from pale red to deep purple.
The pictures below show a pretty big port-wine stain on a baby's cheek and a smaller one in an adult. You can see how the colour is much lighter in the baby compared to the adult, as port-wine stains tend to darken with age.
Do they need treating?
They are not harmful, but if just left alone port-wine stains tend to darken over the years. The overlying skin is smooth and flat at first. By middle age the overlying skin can become thickened and lumpy (a cobblestone-like appearance). A lot of people find it distressing to live with skin like this on their face.
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- Rajaratnam R, Laughlin SA, Dudley D; Pulsed dye laser double-pass treatment of patients with resistant capillary malformations. Lasers Med Sci. 2011 Apr 8.
- Klein A, Baumler W, Landthaler M, et al; Laser and IPL treatment of port-wine stains: therapy options, limitations, and practical aspects. Lasers Med Sci. 2011 Mar 10.
- Sturge-Weber Syndrome, SWS; Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM)
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