What's That Purple Skin Spot—And What Can You Do About It?

Posted on: 25 April 2019

If you or any members of your family sport an odd-looking red or purple discoloration on the skin, you might assume the worst—but in most cases, you don't need to scramble for emergency medical care. A variety of conditions can cause birthmarks that meet this general description, most of them completely benign in nature. Here are a few common causes of reddish/purplish birthmarks, along with some tips on what you can do to get rid of them.

Port Wine Stains

Port wine stains get their name from their deep red-purple coloration. These stains typically (but not invariably) appear on the head, face, neck, or limbs. Your port wine stain may feel smooth throughout your lifetime, or it may develop a rough or uneven texture at some point. While you might feel embarrassed by a port wine stain on a prominent area such as the face, you don't usually have to seek any kind of treatment for such a birthmark. If, however, a port wine stain appears near your child's forehead or eye, you'll want to have it monitored by your physician. Port wine stains in these locations can sometimes predict a neurological condition called Sturge-Weber syndrome, a potential cause of learning disabilities or even seizure.


A hemangioma is a benign tumor composed of a mass of abnormal capillaries. These capillaries overgrow to form a red or purple lump on the skin. They can also develop in deeper, larger blood vessels—a condition known as a cavernous hemangioma—creating a blue-tinged area instead of a reddish lump. (It's even possible to have a combination of these two types of hemangiomas, known as a compound hemangioma.) Unlike port wine stains, which usually takes up permanent residence on the skin, hemangiomas tend to develop in infancy and then fade away during childhood. 

Salmon Patches

A salmon patch represents another kind of birthmark that commonly appears at birth or in infancy. This type of spot tends to be light pink in color, rather than the more vivid red or purple of other birthmarks. Salmon patches that appear on the face are often called "angel's kisses" and fade within a couple of years. Salmon patches on the back of the neck, known as "stork bites," are usually permanent but may end up hidden by hair. These spots present no health dangers.

Options for Removal

Since the outstanding majority of red or purple birthmarks can't harm their owners, there's no urgency about removing them. In the case of salmon patches or hemangiomas, you may want to give the marks every chance to fade away on their own (or choose a hairstyle that hides a stork bite on the neck). A permanent spot that causes constant embarrassment, such as a port wine stain, can sometimes respond to laser removal treatment. Various types of laser light technology, including pulsed dye laser treatment, can heat, seal, shrink, and dissolve the blood vessels that cause this discoloration. A series of laser sessions can dramatically lighten a port wine stain, even if it isn't likely to remove it completely.

While birthmarks rarely need to be removed for medical reasons, keep in mind that a discolored spot on the skin could indicate a different kind of condition entirely. For instance, a pink spot with a rough or scaly texture could be actinic keratosis, a pre-cancerous condition that may require close monitoring and/or removal. If you have any doubts about what that spot might be or what it could mean for its owner's health, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to ease your mind. If it's just a birthmark, the specialist can advise you of your options, from laser removal or "watching and waiting" to simply accepting this reminder of your uniqueness!