Café au lait spots are a type of birthmark characterized by flat patches on the skin. They are light brown in color but can darken with sun exposure. These marks are distinct because they often have irregular edges and vary in color.

The size of café au lait spots can also vary. Spots can be as small as a half centimeter. The spots are usually present at birth but may develop later in life.

Café au lait spots are harmless and normal, with some people having anywhere from one to three spots. But sometimes, these spots can indicate an underlying genetic problem.

Here is what you need to know about café au lait spots, including when to see a doctor for them.

cafe au lait spots

Café au lait spots aren’t a type of rash or an allergic reaction, so these spots don’t itch or cause pain. Developing a spot on your body can be a cause for concern, but café au lait spots are benign pigmented lesions that don’t cause cancer.

These spots are usually smooth, although some spots can be raised. The spots are also easily identified by their coffee-like color. Some people with café au lait spots have light brown patches, whereas others have dark brown patches. Lighter patches can also become darker with age.

Although these colored spots on the skin can be harmless, having six or more café au lait spots with freckles under the arm or around the groin could indicate an underlying genetic problem called neurofibromatosis type 1.

This is a disorder that can affect the skin, nerves, and eyes. People with this disorder often have several café au lait spots on different parts of their body. Some spots are present at birth, whereas others start to develop before the age of five.

Because this genetic condition can cause bone abnormalities and language difficulties, see a doctor if you (or your child) have colored patches on the skin, along with lumps under the skin or speech problems. Other complications of this disorder include high blood pressure, vision problems, and epilepsy.

If diagnosed with neurofibromatosis, your doctor may schedule periodic appointments to monitor your health. However, some people don’t develop any complications from this disorder.

If you or your child develops colored skin patches, make an appointment with your doctor to determine whether the spots are café au lait spots or another type of pigmented lesion.

No specific medical tests are available to diagnose café au lait spots. Doctors can usually make a diagnosis based on a physical examination and the appearance of the skin patches.

If you have one to three spots, your doctor may determine there’s no need for further testing. On the other hand, your doctor may suspect neurofibromatosis if you have six or more spots measuring at least one centimeter and if you have freckles under the arms and near the groin.

You may need genetic testing to confirm this diagnosis. Once you receive confirmation of this genetic disorder, your doctor may conduct further testing to ensure the disorder hasn’t affected your bones and other parts of your body.

This includes an imaging test such as an X-ray or an MRI. These tests are used to check for abnormalities like small malignant or benign bone tumors. You may also have an ear and eye exam.

Café au lait spots are a benign and harmless condition. They don’t require treatment.

One option to make these spots less noticeable is to get laser treatment. But even if you remove these spots, they could return later. You can also apply makeup to hide café au lait spots.

Genetic testing may confirm neurofibromatosis. If so, there’s no cure for this disorder. If you develop complications associated with this condition, your doctor can suggest different treatments to relieve symptoms. These include medication to treat high blood pressure or speech therapy to improve language problems.

If you develop a benign or malignant tumor from this disorder, you may need surgery to remove the tumor or other cancer therapies like chemotherapy and radiation.

Café au lait spots are usually harmless and don’t cause any uncomfortable symptoms or complications. But you shouldn’t ignore these spots, especially if you have more than a handful on your body. This could indicate an underlying genetic disorder.

The outlook for café au lait spots is positive and these birthmarks don’t need treatment. But if you prefer having these spots removed, talk to your doctor about laser treatment or use make-up to hide discoloration.