What is a port-wine stain?

Port-wine stains are the result of a non-hereditary local development disorder of the skin that cause an abnormal high amount of blood veins. Although they can occur all over the body, they appear most frequently on the facial skin.
Port-wine stains are present from the moment of birth. Port-wine stains are seen in circa 2 out of a 1000 new born babies. The official name for port-wine stains is nevus flammeus.

What does it look like?

At birth, port-wine stains are light- to dark red stains, on the same altitude as the regular skin. The size can be a couple of millimeters but it can also be so large that it can cover a whole leg.
At a later age the surface can become rough and irregular and can get a purple colour.
In comparison to infantile hemangiomas port-wine stains do not have the tendency to spontaneously disappear.


In the past only camouflage could provide the solution to counteract the cosmetic objections of port-wine stains. However, nowadays the possibility exists to remove port-wine stains by laser.

Laser therapy

Laser therapy works on the principle of using light of a single wavelength. The laser beam radiates straight through the skin without causing serious damage to it. Then, the laser hits the blood veins of the port-wine stain. The energy of the laser is only selectively absorbed by the blood. This results in a very high temperature that lasts only a few moments. This high temperature will damage the walls of the little veins after which the body will clean them up. The results are usually very good. Multiple types of lasers can be used in the treatment of port-wine stains. Examples are the argon laser and the pulsed dye laser.

Rare types of port-wine stains

Port-wine stains can be a part of certain syndromes, like the Sturge-Weber syndrome. This is a kind of syndrome where in addition to the port-wine stains on the skin of the face also neurological abnormalities can be seen. There is risk of Sturge-Weber syndrome when the port-wine stain os localized around the eyes and on the forehead.



Leon H. et al: Pulsed Dye Laser Treatment of Port-Wine Stains in Infancy Without the Need for General Anesthesia. JAMA Dermatol. 2019 Mar 13. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2018.5249.