Birthmark removal: The basics

OK, not all birthmarks are as adorable and iconic as Marilyn Monroe's renowned beauty spot. In fact,...

OK, not all birthmarks are as adorable and iconic as Marilyn Monroe's renowned beauty spot. In fact, some birthmarks can be downright embarrassing, especially if they're large or in a very obvious place. If your birthmark is more annoying than iconic, you might think about having it removed. Birthmark removal is actually a fairly common procedure in dermatologist and cosmetic surgery offices across the country. There's no reason you should have to live with an embarrassing birthmark. Talking to the right experts can put you on the path to removal and much smoother, unmarked skin.

The consult. The first step to having a birthmark removed is a consult with your family doctor. It's always a good idea to have any moles or birthmarks checked before they're removed. In some cases, irregular, growing, or new "birthmarks" could actually be a sign of melanoma, or skin cancer. Your doctor can examine the mark and decide whether it needs to be surgically removed as part of a treatment plan, or refer you to a dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon who can assist in a benign removal.

Who to contact. It's your family physician who needs to make the call as to whether the removal of the birthmark is necessary for medical purposes, or if its strictly cosmetic. Make an appointment or mention your concerns the next time you see your doc.

The options. When it comes to birthmarks, you typically have two options. The first, which is used for small and flat birthmarks, is laser removal. Laser removal works by essentially removing the marked layers of skin and stopping the birthmark from growing any farther. This method causes a minimal amount of pain, but it often takes several treatments to fade the mark altogether. The second method for removal is surgery-based. A skilled surgeon can cut the birthmark out of the healthy surrounding skin. This only requires one treatment, but it has a much longer recovery time. It's best for birthmarks that are raised above the surface of the skin, or those marks that interfere with your daily life.

Who to call. Your doc will help direct you to the professional that you need for a specific type of removal. For instance, if you have a flat, colored birthmark, you'll probably be directed to a competent dermatologist, who can use laser treatments to get rid of the mark altogether.

The pain level. We won't sugar coat it; there will be some pain involved with either removal procedures. Those who have had laser removal done says it feels a little like being snapped with a rubber band. Sometimes, a derm will administer numbing cream beforehand, which helps to limit pain. Luckily, the laser procedure is short; depending on the size of the mark it should only take three or four minutes per session.

If you're having surgical removal done, you can expect a little more pain. For routine surgeries, you'll have local anesthetic administered via injection, which is usually the worst part. After that, you might feel pressure, but very little in the way of pain. However, if your mark was substantial, you might have lingering pain in the day or two after the procedure.

Who to contact. Talk to your cosmetic surgeon about managing pain during and after your surgery. For instance, you may be given pain medication to take during the recovery period.

The recovery time. After a laser therapy treatment, you might experience some redness, tenderness and swelling as the result of the laser on your skin. Still, within one or two days you should be completely healed. If you've opted to go for surgical removal, you can expect a two- to three-week recovery time for your incisions to heal. You may also expect some light scarring, so you'll need to talk to your surgeon about keeping your wound clean and healthy for the least amount of recovery possible.

Who to contact. Your surgeon can give you tips on how to keep your incision clean. However, if you notice that your incision is becoming red, swollen or warm to the touch, or secreting liquid, contact your doctor immediately. Those are all signs of a serious infection, which can slow healing time. You might need some antibiotics and a cleaning to continue a healthy healing process.

If you're thinking about having birthmark removal done, start by checking out Atlanta-based dermatologists on Kudzu. A qualified derm can help you weigh your options based on the type of birthmark you have to help you choose the best removal method.

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