[By Dana White]
If you pop down to your local drugstore, chances are you will find at least three products claiming to help banish stretch marks. The truth is that many OTC creams little more than just moisturize your skin, and stretch marks do not improve greatly with topical products.
Here, we uncover the truth about stretch marks to give you the low down on this stubborn condition.
What are stretch marks?
Stretch marks are lesions that tend to form in the dermis of the skin during periods of hormonal flux, with weight gain or loss, pregnancy, and other periods of hormonal changes.
What causes stretch marks?
Sometimes, a rapid increase in the size of the skin’s tissue stretches the skin beyond its capacity to do so at a given time. The problem arise when this stretching occurs at a rate that the skin is unable to produce enough collagen and elastin (which form the connective tissue of the skin) to keep up with the rapid changes. When the connective tissues are not strong enough to withstand the over-stretching, they break apart and form stretch marks in the dermis and show through the epidermis.
Read More: 5 Tips to Lighten Stretch Marks
Certain topical medications such as steroids can aggravates the appearance of stretch marks as it thins out the skin, rendering it more prone to the formation of stretch marks. Finally, certain conditions or diseases such as Cushing’s syndrome and adrenal gland diseases can cause widespread stretch marks, as can Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and other hereditary (genetic) disorders.
Where are stretch marks found?
The ugly truth is that anyone can get stretch marks anywhere on their body, though in general, they tend to appear where there are huge fluctuations in size with resultant stretching of the area. For instance, women often tend to get them on their thighs, abdomen and buttocks as these are areas that expand with age, weight fluctuations and pregnancy. Teenagers who go through growth spurts in puberty may also find stretch marks appearing on their body.
Are there different kinds of stretch marks?
The appearance of stretch marks will usually depend on the colour of your skin. In general however, stretch marks start out in pink, red, purple or dark brown and then fade over time to a more silvery white colour. They tend to be pinkish or red in fair skin tone women and in darker skin tone women, they will usually be lighter than the surrounding skin. At the initial stage, stretch marks often appear pinkish red which is caused by micro blood vessels breaking up and bleeding. Over time, the marks fade to a silvery white colour that is a few shades lighter than your natural skin tone. The lighter colour occurs because during the overstretching of the dermis, natural collagen production gets disrupted. This in turn causes the loss of skin pigment producing cells.
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Who gets it?
Stretch marks are caused by a variety of factors, from genetics to weight fluctuations (weight gain and weight loss or pregnancies). In general, stretch marks are more common in women than in men, and more common in white women than in Asian or black women. Risk factors include
- Being female
- Having a family history of stretch marks
- Being pregnant, especially for younger women
- Having larger babies
- Being overweight or obese
- Rapidly gaining or losing weight
- Using corticosteroid medication
People who gain weight slowly over a period of time are less likely to develop stretch marks than those with sudden weight fluctuations. As genetics also play a huge part in whether you develop stretch marks, it is true that some individuals are certainly more prone to developing stretch marks than others.
Is it preventable?
You can minimise your risk of getting stretch marks by minimising your risk factors above, for instance, maintaining constant weight, avoiding sudden weight fluctuations, avoid overuse of steroid-containing creams etc.
During pregnancy where weight gain is to be expected, constant weight gain is preferred over sudden weight gain.
Moisturising the skin may play a small part. Though dryness does not create stretch marks it is advised to keep the skin well moisturised. The key is to constantly maintain the skin’s elasticity by moisturising it, although moisturising also would not keep stretch marks at bay. If you have not moisturized your skin over several years, or maybe even months, you may observed that more stretch marks are appearing.
Are there treatments to improve the appearance of stretch marks?
Once stretch marks are formed, it is best to consult a doctor for a clinically proven treatment as over-the-counter anti-stretch mark creams are often not an effective treatment for stretch marks formed in the dermis as they do not penetrate deep enough in the skin to address the problem.
Topical solutions may range from prescription retinoid creams. However, one side effect of retinoid creams is peeling, redness and in occasional cases, skin irritation. Hence, only embark on this under a doctor’s supervision. As with all topical products, it is important to be patient and have realistic expectations. While it is possible to improve the appearance of existing stretch marks, patients who desire more dramatic or quicker results may require laser treatments.
Different lasers are used for stretch marks depending on their appearance.
- Vbeam Laser: This pulsed dye laser is the gold standard for redness and broken capillaries and is effective in improving the appearance of red stretch marks, especially stretch marks in their early phase.
- Fraxel Restore: This fractional laser is tailored to renew dull and damaged skins including pitted acne scars and uneven stretch marks. It can improve the appearance of whitish or silvery stretch marks.
- Thermage Body: This patented monopolar radiofrequency is especially good for tightening sagging skins. In some patients who have loose skin with stretch marks, improving the tone and elasticity of the skin can also improve the appearance of stretch marks.
When should we seek treatment for stretch marks
Stretch marks have a life cycle. In the initial stage, they are red, purple and brightly colored. At this point, they are called striae rubra. During this phase, they are easier to treat and it gives you more flexibility in how you can deal with them such as doctors’ prescribed creams. Over time, the stretch marks change. They become fainter in colour, to an almost silvery white. At this point they are known as striae alba. Once they have reached the alba phase, they are much harder to treat and will usually require laser treatments. Therefore it is important to treat them as soon as possible for the maximum benefit.
THE SLOANE CLINIC
Vbeam Laser, Fraxel Restore and Thermage Body are available at The Sloane Clinic. The Sloane Clinic is a chain of top aesthetic clinics & plastic surgery center in Singapore & Malaysia, helmed by some of the best aesthetic doctors & plastic surgeons.