Port-wine Stain

Authored by Dr Oliver Starr, 15 May 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Helen Huins, 15 May 2017

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.

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.

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.

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.

port wine stain 1
port wine stain 2

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.

Further reading and references

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