Port-wine Stain - Treatment

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

Laser treatment

  • Pulsed dye laser is the treatment of choice for port-wine stains. It is a treatment that was developed in the 1980s, so plenty is known about it.
  • The treatment fires tiny lasers at the blood vessels in the skin, making them seal off.
  • Initially just a small area will be treated, as a test. This can judge how well the child handles the treatment and whether they find it too painful. Children say it feels like being flicked by a rubber band.
  • The skin can be numbed with local anaesthetic cream beforehand. But if the child finds it too painful or there is a large area to be treated then they can have the treatment under a general anaesthetic. Most hospitals will only give a general anaesthetic over the age of 2 years for the laser treatment.
  • Typically about six laser sessions are given over a period of a year.
  • Laser works best when used at a young age and when the port-wine stain is pale pink rather than deep purple.
  • About three quarters of children have a good response to laser treatment, with the port-wine stain getting much paler.
  • In the long term the skin area can go back to a darker colour, about ten years after laser treatment.

This picture shows a severe port-wine stain before laser treatment (on the left) and following treatment. You can see how it is slightly paler afterwards.

Picture of severe portwine stain pre and post laser. Free image from openi.nlm.nih.gov

The picture below shows a paler port-wine stain in a child that responded very well to laser treatment:

Good result from laser to a mild portwine stain. Free image from openi.nlm.nih.gov/

Images from Openi® (Open Access Biomedical Image Search Engine)

Camouflage cream

For skin patches that have not responded well to laser, or if the person would like a bit more cover-up for a special occasion, camouflage creams can used. These come in a wide variety of colours and can be matched to the person's skin colour.

Waterproof creams have been designed. Usually the cream is removed each night with a cleanser.

Most port-wine stains are quite pale and flat in a newborn. If left alone they gradually get thicker, bumpy and darker. This is why early treatment, in a young child, is better than in an adult.

Further reading and references

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