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Birthmark made my childhood a misery; Discovering brilliant camouflage make-up when she was 18 has given Ros Pryor the confidence to overcome her port-wine stain By JILL FOSTER.


AS an air hostess Ros Pryor must have greeted thousands of passengers over the years.

She's also a professional dancer who performs in front of large audiences. Yet as a child, Ros would barely take her eyes from the floor for fear of what onlookers might say about the large port-wine stain covering the left-hand side of her face.

"I had a terrible childhood," she says. "I'd get called ketchup and beetroot face. It totally zapped my confidence. I became one of the shyest people at school and spent most of my free time in my bedroom. Children can be so cruel and I had a horrible time."

Ros, 37, was born with the birthmark which grew in size as she got older. Port-wine stains affect one in every 500 babies and occur when blood vessels in the affected skin lack the small nerve fibres which are necessary to narrow them.

The blood vessels are left wide open, increasing blood flow through the skin and making the area look red. When she was born there was no treatment or any way to cover it up.

"It was hard," she admits. "We never discussed it at home because it wasn't an issue within my family and I felt that if I talked about it out loud it would make it more real.

"When I was 14, I was a bridesmaid and mum wrote off to see if she could get me any make-up because she was worried about how I would feel having my photo taken.

"She did her best to cover it up but it was so gunky and sticky that if anything it made me feel even more self-conscious." She'd rather forget her childhood which she admits scarred her psychologically but at 18 she saw something on TV which changed her life.

"It was this brilliant make-up from the Red Cross called Dermacolor which came in loads of shades. I ordered some straight away.

"It took two weeks to arrive. In fact, it was as mum and dad were driving me to Chichester to start university that I asked if we could just stop off at Boots to see if the cream had arrived.

"It had. As soon as I got to my new room at university I covered up the stain and you couldn't see it at all. I felt like a new person."

Ros's confidence soared. None of her fellow students even realised she had a birthmark until she wiped off her make-up.

"Only those people who shared a room with me knew about it," she says. "I used to enjoy seeing the expression on their faces."

She was never short of male attention. "I've had loads of boyfriends," she says. "They're not bothered by the birthmark. The only reason I'm single now is because I'm too busy to fit in a relationship." After leaving university, Ros decided to teach. It meant revisiting a place which once filled her with fear - the classroom.

"I thought 'if I can do this, I can do anything'," she says. "But I loved every minute. When you're passionate about something you forget about everything else."

After 10 years of teaching she decided to become an air hostess. Although worried she would never make it, she applied to British Airways.

"They were wonderful," she says. "Firstly they said 'We can't see anything' and secondly they said 'Even if we could, you're a good candidate and as long as it's not distressing the passengers, it's not a problem."

She has been an air hostess for six years and has recently gone part-time so she can fit in her dancing. Although now full of confidence, she would still like to have the birthmark removed and is about to have her 14th session of pulsed dye laser treatment.

"The laser has reduced my birthmark by 15 per cent over the years," she says. "It takes about 20 minutes and 300 shots of light are fired into the stain. Afterwards it's sore and angry for about eight days. But it's worth it.

Since making a TV documentary about her birthmark, Ros is less inclined to cover up.

"It's had an enormous effect on me," she says. "I've been out with just normal make-up on and I've been wearing my camouflage make-up less around the house.

"I even answered the door to the postman the other day. Twenty years ago I would have hated doing that but now I just get on with it.

"As long as you're confident, people react warmly. It will take years to undo the damage done in my childhood but I'm getting there slowly."

Ros appears on One Life - In Your Face next Tuesday on BBC One, 10.35pm




Also known as naevus flammeus, port-wine stains are present at birth and do not improve with time. They occur on any part of the skin. Facial port-wine stains can occasionally affect the eye and in certain cases further investigation is necessary. If it occurs on an arm or leg, it is usual to check that the growth of the limb is normal.


Pulsed dye laser can be used to help fade the mark in most patients - although it may not clear it completely. It is available in a few specialised centres in the UK. Laser treatments lighten 90 per cent or more of port-wine stains in children. Depending on the size and site of the birthmark, up to 10 treatments may be required before a noticeable difference is seen. Port-wine stains on limbs respond less well than those on the face. Camouflage creams are often helpful and expert advice is available in British Red Cross clinics based at selected dermatology centres.

Changing Faces and the Disfigurement Guidance Centre also offer a comprehensive service for patients and their families with all types of birthmarks.

Further information

British Association of Skin Camouflage 07732 689278

Skin Camouflage Service 020 7201 5142

Changing Faces 020 7706 4232

Disfigurement Guidance Centre (Scotland) 01334 839084 and 01337 870281


SMILING AT LAST: A sad four-year-old Ros and, above, wearing her camouflage make-up today; COVER-UP: Ros applies her make-up
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:M Health
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 22, 2004
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