Stretch marks, also known medically as striae, are streak-like lines that can develop on the surface of the skin. The most commonly affected areas are the stomach, thighs, buttocks and breasts. Stretch marks are caused by sudden stretching of the skin. This can occur as a result of pregnancy, rapid weight gain and growth spurts during puberty. Stretch marks often start off as red or purple streaks that gradually fade to silvery-white lines in the skin.
Stretch marks occur in the dermis, the middle layer of skin. The dermis contains fibres called collagen and elastin which help to keep the skin supple and allow the skin to stretch as your body grows. However, if the skin is stretched suddenly over a short period of time the fibres over-stretch and break causing the dermis to tear. The tears in the dermis allow the blood vessels in the deeper layers of skin to show through. This is what gives stretch marks the red or purple colour when they first appear. Eventually the exposed blood vessels contract and only the fat beneath which is pale in colour, will show through causing the stretch marks to fade to the silvery-white colour. People with more collagen in their skin are less likely to develop stretch marks.
Stretch marks are very common in both men and women. Around 8 out of 10 pregnant women are affected by stretch marks. Not only is your skin stretched to its limit, the production of special hormones during pregnancy can make you more likely to develop stretch marks. Specialised hormones designed to soften the ligaments in your pelvis to make giving birth easier also soften the fibres in the skin making you prone to stretch marks. Here at The London Dermatology CentreTM we have undertaken our own research into the prevention of stretch marks during pregnancy using a specially designed product. To find out more about this research click on the following link Secret Saviours Clinial Trial . Women are more likely to develop stretch marks if their mother has stretch marks. Rapid weight gain and yo-yo dieting can also lead to stretch marks. By regularly dieting your weight goes up and down quickly without giving your skin enough time to adjust. You should aim to lose weight slowly to prevent your skin from stretching too quickly. Boys and girls often undergo growth spurts (when you grow very quickly in a short amount of time) during puberty. This sudden growth can cause the development of stretch marks. People with darker skin are less likely to have stretch marks.
In rarer cases, the cause of the stretch marks is due to an underlying health condition. Cushing’s syndrome occurs when your body overproduces a hormone called cortisol. The excess cortisol in your body is thought to cause stretch marks to develop. Marfan syndrome is a genetic condition that affects the skin and connective tissues in your body. The tissues are weaker than normal and are less able to stretch. This causes your skin to be less resistant to stretch marks than it should be. Many people with Marfan syndrome develop stretch marks on the shoulders, lower back or hips. Body builders can also develop stretch marks on their shoulders as their muscle size increases. The prolonged use of topical corticosteroid creams or ointments such as those used to treat skin conditions like eczema, can also decrease the amount of collagen in your skin. This makes your skin more likely to develop stretch marks.
Stretch marks will usually fade over time and often aren’t noticeable. However, if you have stretch marks that affect a large area of your body or you are worried that they look unsightly, there are options available to you. There are several different treatments available to reduce the appearance of stretch marks ranging from lasers to topical creams and lotions. Depending on your preference and the nature of the stretch marks themselves, the dermatologists here at the London Dermatology Centre will work with you to come up with a personalised treatment plan.
Two different laser treatments are used to reduce the appearance of stretch marks. When stretch marks are red or purple the IPL (intense pulsed light) laser can be used to reduce the redness and decrease any associated inflammation. For stretch marks that have faded to the silvery-white colour, the Fraxel laser is preferred. The Fraxel treatment uses patented fractional technology to target damaged skin with microscopic laser columns that penetrate deep into the skin. The laser causes minor injuries in the skin called microtrauma. The microtrauma created by the laser stimulates the production of collagen which helps to replenish the lost collagen in the stretch marks and helps to reduce imperfections. The Fraxel laser treatment causes the stretch marks to become narrower and gives the skin a smoother appearance. Depending on the level of the treatment, you may experience redness or swelling after the procedure. This should subside within 1 to 4 days.
Carboxytherapy is a treatment that uses carbon dioxide (CO2) a naturally occurring gas present in both the atmosphere and our bodies at all times, to increase blood flow to treated areas. By increasing the blood flow to target areas you also increase the amount of nutrients and oxygen supplied to that area of skin which stimulates cells to repair and to produce more collagen. This helps to replenish the collagen that was damaged in the development of the stretch mark. Skin-Breath® is a high quality, medical device used to perform carboxytherapy treatments. This impressive miniaturised CO2 Pen has been designed to improve stretch marks and skin laxity. Using the Skin-Breath® CO2 Pen, a number of very minor injections are made into the stretch mark to produce small temporary CO2 bubbles beneath the skin. The CO2 bubbles cause an increase in blood flow to the treated area which results in the stimulation of collagen production. Each treatment takes about 15 minutes. Sessions take place once every 2 to 3 weeks. On average patients need between 5 and 12 sessions of carboxytherapy. The number of sessions you will need depends on the severity, number and depth of the stretch marks being treated. Results should be visible by the third session.
Skin needling or Microneedling refers to both the Dermaroller treatment and the Dermapen; it is also known as collagen induction therapy. Microneedling is a minimally invasive procedure used to rejuvenate the skin. It is most commonly used for the reduction of scars such as acne scarring and to reduce the appearance of stretch marks. The Dermaroller is a mechanical device that contains a wheel of microneedles. It is rolled over the skin in order to create a controlled area of trauma in the skin’s top layer. This microtrauma stimulates the production of new collagen and elastin in the deeper layers of skin. This helps to replace the lost collagen in the stretch marks. The microtrauma also increases the blood flow to the treated areas which helps to reduce the appearance of the stretch marks and improve the texture of the skin. The Dermapen is similar in that it uses microneedles to create a controlled area of trauma but instead of a mechanical device it is a smaller electronic device that resembles a pen. The Dermapen is moved backwards and forwards across the skin as the microneedles automatically go in and out of the device around 1000 times a minute. After the procedure your skin may be slightly red. This can last up to 4 days depending on the depth and intensity of the treatment you have.
There are hundreds of creams, gels and lotions available to buy over the counter at pharmacies that claim to reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Most of these products are essentially moisturisers with added ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, fruit extracts, peptides and anti-oxidants. While these creams will often help to keep the stretch marks supple from the moisturising effect of the cream, it is unlikely that they will make them fade any more significantly than they will with time alone. If you do choose to use a topical treatment to reduce the appearance of your stretch marks it is recommended that you apply the product when your stretch marks are still red or purple. There is no medical evidence that these products actually help to reduce stretch marks but there are frequently used products such as BioOil that people do claim to work. BioOil aims to increase the elasticity of the skin, thereby reducing the possibility of new stretch marks forming.
For more information regarding the treatment of stretch marks please contact us on 020 7467 3720.
Content by Dr Sunil Chopra and Rebecca Perris