Stretch marks. Just writing the name makes me cringe a little inside, especially if I break out their medical name, Striae distensae. Now that I’m starting my third trimester, I’m on Stretch Mark Watch, looking at my growing stomach daily for the dreaded marks. The red bands that just look like the skin has been stretched, which it has, are almost ubiquitous during pregnancy. I had a few marks appear during my first pregnancy, and I admit that I’m not looking forward to adding to that collection.
Stretch marks are very different from their surrounding skin. Initially, the area actually gets swollen with inflammation around the blood vessels in the area. At this stage the stretch mark will appear red or even purple, and it will be raised above the surface of the surrounding skin.
As stretch marks age, the swelling goes down and the actual composition of the skin changes in the area of the stretch mark. The components of the skin that provide stretch and elasticity, namely elastin and collagen, decrease in amount. The skin will appear lighter in appearance, will be thinner than the surrounding areas, and will even be missing normal skin components such as hair follicles and sweat glands.
At this point the skin has dramatically changed in composition from normal, while treatments may help improve the appearance of the stretch mark, the skin will not be reverted back to its original composition.
Who Gets Them?
Stretch marks are seen in both men and women, and at almost any age. Stretch marks are thought to be at least partially genetic, chances are if your mom got them with her pregnancies, you will as well.
“Anyone who gains or loses weight in a short period of time is prone to getting stretch marks, which is why many women get them during pregnancy,” says dermatologist Eric Schweiger, MD. Another great time for developing stretch marks is puberty, a time with rapid growth and weight gain. Hormones seem to play a large part in developing stretch marks, they are much more common after the onset of puberty than before puberty.
How Can I Prevent Them?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was an easy way to prevent stretch marks from appearing? There are many creams and lotions on the market that claim to prevent stretch marks. Unfortunately none of them, including the much discussed Cocoa Butter and Vitamin E, can actually prevent them.
“There are no proven ways to prevent stretch marks, but keeping the skin hydrated with lotion may help,” says Dr. Schweiger. Because hydrated skin is typically able to stretch further, this suggestion is one that many physicians make. Be sure to look for a lotion that provides emollient ingredients such as Lanolin, Squalene or Palm Oil, since they typically increase the skin’s flexibility.
How Can I Treat Them?
I asked the experts for their advice on what we can actually do to get rid of them. While they agreed that acting fast is essential to treating them, there were some differing opinions …
“It’s easier to remove stretch marks when they have just formed and are still red or purple in color as opposed to silver or white,” says Dr. Schweiger.
“As soon as you see a stretch mark, apply a topical solution such as Mederma Stretch Mark or Bio Oil,” advices dermatologist David Bank, MD. “Acting fast may help lessen the overall appearance of stretch marks. It’s much easier to treat stretch marks at the beginning stages rather than after they’ve already set.”
But dermatologist Debra Luftman, MD disagrees a bit. She says, “Only procedures in dermatologists offices or prescription creams are effective, and treating earlier is better.
In general, active ingredients that work to fight the signs of aging through increasing cell turn over and collagen production. “I recommend early treatment and skin products that contain collagen-making power such as topical retinoids, and growth factors. Try SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum and SkinMedica Retinal 0.5 percent, 1-2x per day together for 3-6 months,” advises dermatologist Karen Stolman, MD. (Be warned though, neither product is inexpensive.)
Looking for something a little more heavy duty? “There are two different laser options for stretch mark removal. The first option is the KTP laser, which is used to treat newly formed stretch marks that are still red or purple in color. The KTP laser, which is also referred to as pulsed dye laser, destroys the damaged blood vessels without harming the surrounding skin,” explains Dr. Schweiger. “The most effective laser to use for stretch marks that have already turned a shade of white or silver is the fractional CO2 laser, which stimulates collagen renewal and thereby rejuvenates the areas with stretch marks.”
So there you have it! The good, bad, and the ugly on stretch marks. Have any of these treatments worked for you?