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If you’re not sure exactly what a port wine stain is, then chances are you don’t have one. These are small to large, red or purple birthmarks that can be almost any shape and are commonly located on the face, although they can affect any part of the body. They are usually present at birth.
The color of a port wine stain comes from an overgrowth of capillaries in the affected skin. These extra capillaries aren’t needed for proper function, so port wine stains can be treated or “removed” with lasers without harming the skin at all. Class IV medical lasers are a great tool to remove these birthmarks.
The specific type of laser that is used is the pulsed dye laser. It works by targeting the blood inside of the capillaries. The capillary walls are heated by the energy of the laser and it triggers them to collapse or “coagulate”. This stops more blood from filling up the capillary and over time, it is reabsorbed by the body. With each laser treatment, more and more capillaries are removed and slowly, the port wine stain will begin to lighten and disappear. Successful treatment takes time; usually a series of 6 to 12 laser treatments is necessary to completely remove one.
Even today, pulsed dye laser treatment of port wine stains is still considered the best, “gold standard” treatment available. For someone affected with this birthmark, the results are often life changing.