Stretchmarks, medically known as striae distensae, are a common condition experienced by the majority of women and men at some point in their lives. They are typically considered to be unsightly and disfiguring.
What do stretchmarks look like?
More recent or immature stretchmarks are characterised by flattened areas in the skin which are red or pink in colour (striae rubra). They can also be itchy and become slightly raised after some time. When stretchmarks get older, they start to get longer and develop a darker, purple colour. Stretchmarks eventually become wide and become depressed over a longer period of time and become white in colour (striae alba) Under a microscope, stretchmarks very closely resemble scars.
What are the causes of stretchmarks?
The precise cause of stretchmarks is not currently known though it is thought that they are primarily a result of a breakdown in the structures of the skin which provide elasticity and strength.
Who suffers from stretchmarks?
Women more commonly experience stretchmarks than men
do. In one form or another, stretchmarks affect 90%
of pregnant women. They are often seen on body
builders as well as those who have experienced a
rapid gain in weight.
For some individuals, normal growth alone can cause stretchmarks to appear. These can appear during adolescence and are associated with a rapid increase in size of particular regions of the body. For others, stretchmarks may be linked to higher levels of steroid hormones due to using steroid medications or certain treatments for various illnesses.
Where do stretchmarks normally occur?
Stretchmarks can appear in many areas of the body but the most common areas are the thighs, buttocks, upper arms, breasts, outer thighs and lower back in men.
Treating stretchmarks successfully can be challenging and there are no current solutions offering complete, guaranteed results. The optimal treatment used depends on the individual and their particular circumstances. It is important to have realistic expectations and to be prepared for a number of treatment strategies which will often be necessary. Certain treatments offer more effective results depending on the particular patient.
There are certain topical treatments including creams which contain an extract of Centella Asiatica which can help prevent the development of stretchmarks in women who are pregnant.
Exercise and diet
Unfortunately, there is not a great deal of data
showing or proving any beneficial effects of certain
diets and weight loss programs on stretchmarks.
Weight loss programs which rely on diet alone or
even a combination of diet and exercise have not
been shown to lower the risk of stretchmarks.
Microdermabrasion can be effective in some skin conditions such as those of acne scars, pigmentation or wrinkles. Microdermabrasion induces a reaction in the skin which causes dermal repair and remodelling. It can be effective in improving stretchmarks in certain patients, especially those who have red stretchmarks. A series of treatments comprising 10 to 20 sessions are typically necessary.
Using laser treatment
Laser treatment techniques are available to try to improve the appearance of stretchmarks. Light energy from lasers can stimulate the fibroblasts in the skin, stimulating the production of new collagen and elastin. This helps to thicken the skin beneath the stretchmark until it more closely resembles the skin of the surrounding area.
Which type of stretchmarks respond best to laser treatment?
Results vary depending on the patient and results are often not immediate. Some patients do not see any significant improvement while others do. Laser stretchmark treatment is typically progressive and requires a number of treatments. 70% of patients who receive laser treatments for their stretchmarks notice a considerable improvement. Stretchmarks which are newer and shallower respond better to laser than older deeper stretchmarks. Better results are also usually achieved in individuals with red stretchmarks and lighter skin type.
Which type of laser is used?
Vascular lasers including the pulse dye laser are
commonly used as the first line laser option to
treat red stretchmarks. For darker skin tones, pulse
dye lasers are typically avoided as they can cause
pigmentation changes. Dark skinned individuals who
have red stretchmarks typically require the use of a
QYAG laser. The QYAG is also worth trying on white
Fractional lasers, which are exceptional in the results they can achieve with traumatic scars and acne scarring, are also effective in improving the appearance of stretchmarks whether they are immature more mature. However FRAXEL lasers generally are used as the second line laser treatment option for stretchmarks as the treatment is more time consuming and costly than the Pulse Dye or QYAG.
How many treatments are required?
The number of treatments required depends on the individual circumstances of the patient. It depends on the skin type of the individual as well as the type of stretchmark. Normally, between four and six treatments are required with each one being spaced approximately six weeks apart.
How much does it cost?
Treating stretchmarks vary in cost depending on the type of treatment required and the extent of the stretchmarks. Unfortunately, the government does not currently provide a Medicare rebate for the treatment of stretchmarks.