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What is Laser Birthmark Removal?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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Laser birthmark removal is a clinical procedure that can be performed by a dermatologist or a trained cosmetic surgeon to improve the appearance of birthmarks nearly anywhere on the body. A high-intensity, pulsating laser is used to penetrate the outermost layer of skin and cause enough heat and irritation to ablate pigmented cells and blood vessels. The procedure is painless and a single treatment can usually be completed in less than half an hour. Laser birthmark removal has varying results, but most patients enjoy a significant improvement in the appearance of their skin in two to 12 treatment sessions.

Most birthmarks do not pose significant health problems and do not need to be removed for medical reasons. People can be self-conscious about their birthmarks, however, especially if they are very large or in a conspicuous area such as the face or neck. Laser birthmark removal is usually an elective procedure that is not covered by most private and government health insurance providers.

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A person who is considering laser birthmark removal can set up a consultation with a dermatologist to learn more about the procedure. The doctor can explain how it is performed and what to expect. Surgeons can use laser therapy on the two most common types of birthmarks: port-wine and coffee-cream marks. Port-wine marks are dark red or purple spots that get their color from masses of superficial blood vessels, while coffee-cream marks result from excess pigmentation in a cluster of cells. The procedure to remove both types is similar, though the effects of the laser are different.

When removing a port-wine birthmark, the surgeon subjects the skin to pulsating laser beams for several seconds at a time. The laser heats up the underlying blood vessels and causes them to shrivel. Broken vessels can cause the skin to be bright red for about a week following the procedure before returning to a more normal skin color.

Laser birthmark removal for coffee-cream marks typically requires shorter durations and less penetration into the skin. The laser scatters pigment to lighten the area. Coffee-cream treatments usually do not cause as much reddening or irritation.

In most cases, coffee-cream birthmarks respond very quickly to laser removal. Some patients see marked improvement after a single session, though it usually takes at least four sessions before birthmarks are entirely faded. It is more difficult to remove a port-wine mark entirely, and many people require about 12 sessions before desired results are obtained. Dermatologists typically prefer to wait two to three months between sessions to give the skin time to recover.

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