Port wine stains are dark red or purple birthmarks that can appear anywhere on the body, though the face is often the most commonly affected area. Varying in size, port wine stains can appear at birth as flat, pale pink splotches of skin that grow darker and rougher as children mature, though some do appear later in life. While they may fade with age, most grow deeper in color as time passes.
Port wine stains occur when blood vessels in the skin increase in size and remain expanded. This extended dilation is believed to be caused by a damaged nerve supply in which the nerves that narrow the blood vessels do not work properly.
Laser removal of port wine stains and other birthmarks involves use of the pulsed dye laser. Used for the treatment of rosacea and hemangiomas as well, the pulsed dye laser can be focused to destroy blood vessels in the skin. Using heat energy, the laser dissolves the damaged capillaries allowing the body to dispose of the dilated veins naturally. The number of treatments varies based on the size and depth of the birthmark or port wine stain present, but it usually takes a minimum of three treatments for total removal.