What are stretch marks?
Stretch marks are medically known as striae distensae, they are form of scarring on the skin which happens when the skin has been overstretched. This causes the elastic fibers just under the surface of the skin to break resulting in stretch marks which run perpendicular to maximum lines of tension in the skin. They begin as flat red lines and over time may diminish or may remain as slightly depressed ivory white streaks which do not disappear completely. Most often it is associated with rapid growth or rapid weight changes but may also be influenced by hormonal changes associated with puberty, pregnancy, body building and hormonal replacement therapy.
Causes of stretch marks
- Heredity – Some individuals are prone to stretch marks due to heredity.
- Puberty – In adolescence the body grows very quickly due to increased production of growth hormones which results in intense skin stretching.
- Bodybuilders – Because of rapid weight gain the skin gets stretched.
- Skin types – Dry skin types have less elasticity than oily skin, so dry skin types are prone to stretch marks
- Weight change – Rapid weight gain or loss affects the elasticity of skin
- Pregnancy – Result from weight gain and hormone activity during pregnancy. When a woman is pregnant, the stretch marks are a very common skin issue that is visible. Close to three out of four women will develop stretch marks on the different areas of their body like abdomen, legs, hips and few other places. The area with stretch marks are usually areas where the weight gain has affected the most. At the time of pregnancy, the skin expands and stretches to its limit, causing tiny tears in the supporting layers of skin. These small tears are stretch marks that appear as radiant, white lines in the skin. Women who face stretch marks issue post pregnancy look forward to laser stretch mark removal to get rid of the unwanted scarring. This treatment is constructed to lend women the fresh, youthful and unique appearance as they always dreamed of.
- Medication use – Corticosteroid creams, lotions, pills and chronic use of oral or systemic steroids can cause stretch marks
- Conditions or diseases
- Cushing’s syndrome – Adrenal gland disease
- Cutaneous – Marfans syndrome and Ehlers – Danlos syndrome
Where do stretch marks generally occur?
- Upper arms
- Back thighs (both inner and outer)
How to remove stretch marks?
There are numerous stretch marks prevention & removal techniques as given below.
How to prevent stretch marks?
Striae are permanent condition and after they appear they go thru a series of remodeling which can reduce on their own to a certain level. Here are some ways to prevent stretch marks
- Avoid excessive weight gain
- Eating a well-balanced healthy diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals; drinking enough water and exercising regularly can help
- Moisturizing the skin regularly helps since a hydrated skin is less likely to tear and create stretch marks
- Avoiding steroid medications
- Increase Vitamin C intake – 500 mg of Vitamin C taken as oral supplements can help to reduce and prevent stretch marks
How to treat stretch marks?
- Retinoic cream – Helps to build collagen and looks like normal skin. Best to be used on newer stretch marks. Contraindicated if pregnant or lactating.
- Glycolic cream – Increases collagen and makes the skin more elastic. Can be used safely in pregnancy
- Lextrin cream – Lextrin is a FDA registered stretch mark cream that contains high potency of natural essential oils and vitamins that help treat and reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Its active ingredients are hyarolunic acid, thuja occidentalis and centella asiatica which have been proven to reduce the appearance of stretch marks in as little as 2 weeks. Treatment can take up to 3 months to complete. Not to be used if pregnant or nursing.
Non surgical Treatments
Newer stretch marks respond better to non surgical treatments
Dermaroller therapy to remove stretch marks is a very easy and effective treatment. It helps to build collagen and stimulate the fibroblast cells.
Mesotherapy can have an effect on the collagen and elastine thickening during the mechanical skin damage by the needle. The needle is placed along the whitish line of the striae. Newer cosmetic mixtures used are hyaluronic acid, tretinoin and growth factors.
Chemical peel can be used for stretch marks on any body area. The type and strength of the chemical peel varies according to the individual needs and whether the scars are old or new. The chemical peel does not remove the stretch marks completely. The peel which I really like to use in my clinic is the Retises CT peel which has retinoic acid that helps to stimulate the collagen and activate new skin cell production. Chemical peels can be combined with a dermarolller for added benefit. The recovery period depends on the patient’s skin type and the strength of the chemicals administered, and multiple treatments may be necessary to achieve optimal results. They usually fade as a result of series of treatment, and patients emerge with smoother, healthier, more youthful looking skin.
Blue Light Therapy
Although more widely used for acne treatment, it is sometimes used to improve the appearance of stretch marks. Blue light therapy entails the application of a photosensitive gel to the skin, which is then exposed to bursts of light energy. While complete stretch mark removal is unrealistic, patients may notice some improvement, especially in the appearance of newer stretch marks.
Laser treatments can’t completely remove stretch marks, but it may help fade them and make them less noticeable.
Several different types of laser therapy are used to treat stretch marks.
- New stretch marks (Red or purple in color) – Pulse dye laser / Vascular laser
- Older stretch marks (White or silvery in color) – Fractional CO2 laser and RF Pixel laser
Older stretch marks not responding to non surgical treatments are generally treated with the below
Abdominoplasty (tummy tuck)
Is a sure way to get rid of stretch marks. If you have stretch marks on your tummy (abdomen) and a large amount of loose skin, it may be possible to have an operation known as an abdominoplasty or tummy tuck. It is an invasive procedure which removes excess fat and skin from your abdomen, and also gets rid of stretch marks below your belly button.
It is very expensive and there are some life threatening complications. The recovery time is also very long and may take 3 – 6 months for it to get fully healed.
Work with your doctor to choose the most appropriate treatment.