Mongolian spots are common amongst Mongolian people. They appear as small bruise like marks around the base of the spine and above the buttocks. Although present at birth, they fade over time so do not fall under the birthmark category.
The marks usually appear bluish-gray, but they can also look dark brown. They have a flat, irregular shape and no texture. They usually measure no more than a few centimeters wide.
Although the spots usually appear on the back, some people have blue spots on their arms and even face.
As you travel around Mongolia, you may meet people with these marks.
A man called Erwin Balz discovered blue spots on Japanese infants. He named them 'Mongolian blue spots' believing them characteristic of Mongoloid races.
Mongolian blue spots commonly occur among dark skinned people. Most East Asians, East Africans, and people descended from Native Americans carry the mark when born.
But, depending on the nation, the blue spot also occurs amongst one to ten percent of fair skinned people.
Mongolian blue spots have no association with any illness. For Asians, they occur as frequently as freckles.
The spots usually begin to fade by the age of three and most have disappeared by five years. By puberty only five percent of blue spots remain - usually the ones which appear in more unusual positions.
Since the spots fade quickly, treatment is not normally recommended or necessary. Some people cover prominent spots with cosmetics. Japan has reported some success with laser removal treatment.
Mongolian blue spots and eye color are produced by the same body cells.
In the case of Mongolian blue spots, the cells become trapped as they travel through the body. This usually happens while the baby develops in the womb or in the first few weeks of life.The closer the trapped cells lie to the skin's surface the browner the spot looks. The cells usually become trapped in the bottom layer of the skin and hence appear bluish in color.
Although harmless, the spots can look like bruises. Occasionally, well-meaning social workers have mistaken the Mongolian spot for a bruise and taken children into care.
If you adopt or have a child with blue spots, then get them officially documented to prevent misunderstandings about child abuse. Get a doctor or health official to take a few photographs for the official records.
No special test is needed to diagnose a Mongolian blue spot. A doctor can identify them simply by looking.
I don't want any misunderstandings either. My son had a Mongolian spot but I'm sure he wouldn't want me to publish any photos.