Stretch Marks Unveiled
Many of us desperately fight the battle of dealing with skin striae more commonly known as 'stretch marks. Stretch marks are basically scarring of the skin from the inside out caused by tearing due to the breakdown of collagen – the elastin that holds the skin together. The tearing takes place when the skin under goes extreme stress, trauma and strain of pregnancy, weight gain, puberty, or muscle growth.
We are frequently confronted by all these products that claims to rid stretch marks - but do they really work?
I sought to unveil the facts about stretch marks, so I turned to one of the country's leading dermatologist - Eric Schweiger, M.D. of Schweiger Dermatology.
NLL: What gives you credibility to speak on this topic (occupation, title, etc)?
Dr. E: Board-certified dermatologist and founder of Schweiger Dermatology.
NLL: What are some of the causes of skin striae? Dr. E: Striae, more commonly referred to as stretch marks, are formed during times of weight gain or weight loss. We most commonly see stretch marks in teenagers, pregnant women, or people who have gained or lost significant weight quickly. As the skin is stretched, there is a tearing of the skin and an inability of the fibroblasts (the cells that form collagen and elastin) to properly repair themselves. The result is linear scarring of the skin, known as stretch marks.
NLL: Does genetics play a role? Dr. E: Genetics likely play a role in the development of stretch marks, as not everyone who gains or loses weight quickly will develop stretch marks. There may also be a hormonal influence on the development of stretch marks.
NLL: There are no guaranteed ways to prevent stretch marks but what are options (OTC & prescribed) to help minimize them? Dr. E: There are no OTC treatments proven to improve the appearance of stretch marks. Prescription retinoid creams may minimize the appearance of stretch marks to some degree, because they stimulate the production of healthy collagen and elastin in the skin, though they rarely produce a dramatic improvement in the appearance of stretch marks.
NLL: Are the results affected by the age of the stretch marks? Dr. E: There is no conclusive evidence that newer stretch marks respond more dramatically to treatment than older stretch marks, or vice versa.
NLL: Does keeping the skin moisturized and keeping hydrated help? DR. E: Proper skin care, including good moisturizing habits, will result in healthier skin that may be better equipped to handle stretching, without tearing. However, the scientific evidence is inconclusive, as some studies support this and other studies claim that moisturizing does not prevent stretch marks. The best recommendation is to keep your skin moisturized, which will help with itching anyhow, and avoid gaining or losing weight quickly, to the degree that you can control it.
NLL: There is all this talk about the “new laser treatments” that resurfaces the skin and stimulates collagen formation. Tell us a bit about them and how effective are these laser treatments? Dr. E: Laser treatments are the best way to obtain significant improvement in the appearance of stretch marks. There are two types of laser treatments that can yield improvement: vascular lasers and resurfacing lasers. Vascular lasers are helpful in treating stretch marks that are reddish in appearance (usually newer stretch marks.) They break up the red blood cells in the skin that contribute to the reddish appearance of the stretch marks, which results in a decrease in redness of the skin in this area.
Laser resurfacing treatments, such as the fractional CO2 laser and the Fraxel laser, use laser energy to stimulate the skin to produce new collagen and elastin. This process essentially resurfaces the texture of the stretch marks and brings healthy tissue back to the area. The degree of improvement varies in each patient we treat, but we specialize in stretch mark removal and treat many patients each week; it is hard to quantify the percent improvement that is seen for each patient, but I can report that nearly all of our patients report being very satisfied with the results they experience after laser resurfacing treatments are performed.
Share some of your best stretch mark tips.