'What's That on Your Leg?' Life With Dermal Hemangiomas

Dermal hemangiomas are caused by a buildup in the blood vessels under the skin, causing them to raise through the surface.  They’re more commonly referred to as “strawberry marks” due to their appearance.  This makes it sound charming, but for someone that has them as badly as I do, they’re anything but.

These are just my own experiences with the condition. If you suspect that you or your child has this condition, you should speak to your doctor to be sure the hemangiomas are benign.  Dermal hemangiomas can also sometimes be located under the skin and go further down into the body, which can also cause problems.

My doctor told me dermal hemangiomas are most likely genetic but that otherwise there’s no real known cause. They’re most common in infants and small children, but mine developed later into my adulthood. Not only did mine appear as an adult, but they worsened with age.

I’ve been fortunate to not have many on my face, but I’ve had a few. A few small ones have taken up residence on my back, upper arms and shoulders. There are some small red dots over my upper thighs, but the largest ones I have very obviously appear on the inside of the lower part of my left leg. There’s a constellation of red dots there ranging in size from that of a pea to a small marble. There are about nine of them, and they’re noticeable.

This keeps me from wearing shorts, capris or skirts unless they go down to my ankles. The few times I felt brave enough to try, exposing my legs, I experienced obvious stares as well as outright questioning, “What’s that on your leg?”

I don’t think the people who ask this realize this is a permanent condition. Maybe they think I just cut myself shaving (which, by the way, is a considerable challenge) and that I’m unaware. Or maybe they’re just genuinely concerned because they think I’ve injured myself.  But it is embarrassing, and it makes me self-conscious. Plus, I just don’t have the time to stop and educate everyone about the condition. I’m afraid my annoyance is going to come across as rude.

I’ve resigned myself to covering them, but I’m limited to what I can wear because of their location. In the winter I rely on boots to be able to wear shorter skirts. In the summer, the maxi skirt is my best friend.

Once during a pedicure, the individual performing the service hesitated when she saw the red dot cluster on my lower leg. I explained what they were (for about the thousandth time in my life) and that it didn’t hurt to touch them and that they weren’t contagious. I wanted her to feel comfortable continuing with the service. Plus, I wanted the full lower leg massage!

Her response was “Well, I’ll just avoid it” an that, she did! I paid full-price for a pedicure with half the massage — and that’s the best part!

I once visited a dermatologist about having my hemangiomas removed. They informed me they have a specialist with a laser who comes in for scheduled 10-minute intervals and could remove them. The price was $200 per 10-minute session, but they told me it just took a few seconds per hemangioma. I was optimistic they could remove at least the cluster on my lower left leg.

This was early spring, and I had dreams of sporting some cute capris or sun dresses that coming season. I left disappointed. A few of the very tiny ones came off, but they told me (after the fact) that the larger ones would take several treatments, if they came off at all.  That was $200 I could have spent on maxi dresses and boots to hide them! I was left with the leg cluster.

Sometimes, the ones on my leg hurt. But I realize how fortunate I am that, for me, this condition is benign (which they typically are) and has caused no real health problems. I’m very thankful mine are no worse than they are.

It does affect my day-to-day life, however. I’m forced with the decision to either wear what I want and deal with the stares and questions or to go out of my way to dress to cover them.  It’s more than a nuisance; it’s a lifestyle.

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