Treating Stretch Marks - Does Anything Work?
Bothered by stretch marks? You certainly aren’t alone. Although they appear in different areas, with different causes, and to different extremes from one person to the next, as many as 80 percent of Americans have stretch marks to some degree. Depending on their stage, the marks may appear pink, red, purple, silver or white, with the latter two colors indicating stretch marks that are mature. Most often, they will affect areas where larger amounts of fat are stored such as the abdomen, upper arms, buttocks, breasts, and thighs.
Why do we get stretch marks?
Stretch marks occur when collagen and elastin fibers tear during events such as pregnancy, puberty, or substantial weight gain or loss over a short period of time. However, while fluctuations in weight may be blamed for the development of stretch marks, hormonal changes that occur during these events are the true culprits.
Rapid muscle gain, obesity, puberty and pregnancy can all result in an increase of glucocorticoids, steroid hormones released by the adrenal glands. The unfortunate byproduct of these hormones is that they inhibit the elasticity of the skin, causing the collagen and elastin fibers within the dermis (middle layer of skin) to tear. This too explains why some individuals are simply more prone to the development of stretch marks than others. These patients have higher levels of glucocorticoids.
Is there any effective treatment for stretch marks?
While there is no shortage of stretch mark products available to the public, the only way to significant, noticeable improvement is through laser treatment – specifically pulsed dye and fractional ablative lasers. Here are the details on each:
· Pulsed Dye Lasers – For new stretch marks (striae rubra), pulsed dye lasers are most effective. Absorbed by hemoglobin in the blood, these lasers work to improve the blood vessels that are circulating oxygenated blood within the affected area, thereby reducing redness and allowing the area to heal before further damage can occur.
· Fractional Ablative Lasers – While non-ablative lasers can also be effective, fractional ablative lasers are the best-suited for treatment of mature stretch marks (striae alba). Delivered in several different mircobeams, fractional ablative lasers “drill” many microscopic holes into the damaged tissue. In these areas, scar tissue is removed and new collagen is stimulated, helping promote healthier, smoother skin.
The type of laser and number of treatments is something that will vary from one patient to the next, based on the age and severity of the stretch marks, as well the patient’s own genetics.
Unfortunately, no one can predict the development of stretch marks until they’ve already begun. Neither can they be prevented. They can, however, be treated and reduced in appearance given the right treatment options and the help of a board-certified dermatologist.