What are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks, or striae distensae to dermatologists, are linear, red or pink scars that appear where dermal damage is done by rapid stretching of the skin. Stretch marks do not cause any complications, but can have a significant effect on a persons confidence and self-esteem from a cosmetic perspective.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
There are various factors that are speculated to cause stretch marks. The primary cause of stretch marks found by dermatologist is the damaged connective tissue in the dermis causing alterations at the cellular level and its cellular framework. Several factors contribute to the formation of stretch marks caused by dermal damage. Pregnancy is one of the highest contributing factors to stretch marks. Growth spurts caused by puberty resulting in rapid stretching of the skin is another factor. Rapid weight fluctuations caused by fat or muscle gain and loss seen in the obesity, rapid weight loss, or weightlifters are well known causes for stretch mark formation.
There are medical disorders that may contribute to the formation of stretch marks as well. Cushing’s Syndrome causes excessive cortisol production and can lead to stretch mark formation. Long-term use of higher strength cortisone creams or tablets can also cause stretch mark formation.
Assessment and Clinical Diagnosis
Assessment and diagnosis of stretch marks is very straight-forward for a dermatologist. Biopsies or special tests are not usually required. There are two phases of stretch marks called striae rubra and striae alba. Our dermatologists will base your treatments depending on the phase your stretch marks are in.
The initial stage of stretch marks is known as striae rubra. This is characterized by a smooth, raised, irritable area that is reddish or blueish in color.
As this striae rubra ages, it becomes what is known as striae alba. This is characterized by a pale, flat, and slightly wrinkled area.
In the vast majority of cases, stretch marks are benign and are generally not a medical risk unless associated with medical disorders such as Cushing’s syndrome. Stretch marks can be a cosmetic concern causing unsightly scarring which can be embarrassing and create self-consciousness and comfort issues in certain individuals. Larger stretch marks may rupture and cause bleeding with traumatic incident, but this is very rare.
Treatment for Stretch Marks
After assessment, a dermatologist will design a recommended plan for treatment to help reduce the visibility of stretch marks. There are many options for treatment, from topical treatments to lasers. Treatment will vary depending on the quality of the stretch marks and other characteristics of your skin. It is very important that you see a dermatologist for your stretch mark treatments to avoid misadventure with expensive and ineffective treatments. There is no single treatment that is used to remove stretch marks or for ‘stretch mark removal’. All available treatments help improve stretch marks. Be cautious with misleading advertising that is become more common.
Topical treatments are one option dermatologist used to help treat stretch marks. Topical treatments such as high strength compounded prescription-based vitamin A creams have been shown to be effective in treating stretch marks. This form of vitamin A, used at the correct and graded concentrations, is used to help collagen production which can help make stretch marks look like normal dermis. Over the counter, cosmeceutical strength vitamin A cream are ineffective in treating stretch-marks.
CO2 Laser Resurfacing
Another option dermatologists may use is CO2 laser resurfacing. This uses a fractional laser to help stimulate fibroblasts and remodel dermis to help reduce the visibility of stretch marks.
Radiofrequency (RF) Microneedling is a procedure dermatologists may use. This uses microneedles to puncture and heat the dermis causing constriction and tightening of the skin. RF microneedling also stimulates the production of collagen and elastin production further improving the appearance of stretch marks. Not all RF devices and treatments are the same so be sure that you are seeing a qualified dermatologist for advice to avoid disappointment.
Vascular lasers are an option we may use in the early onset of stretch marks as blood vessels are dilated in early stretch marks. Vascular lasers target and destroy the blood vessels which causes the redness and can help with slowing and treating early onset stretch marks. Studies have also shown that vascular lasers increase collagen production in the extracellular matrix of the dermis and also help stretch marks in this way.
We offer several treatments for improvement of stretch marks. Often a combination of lasers, energy devices and prescription creams are used for enhanced effect. Should you wish to be seen by one of our dermatologists, please call us or request an appointment.
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