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.  Melbourne Skin & Dermatology will base your treatments depending on the phase your stretch marks are in.

 

Striae Rubra

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.

 

Striae Alba

As striae rubra matures over time, it becomes a pale, flat, and slightly wrinkled area referred to as striae alba.

 

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

Stretch marks do not necessarily need treatment and often they improve with time alone.  There are some options for active treatment, including topical treatments and lasers. Suitable treatments vary depending on the type of the stretch marks and other characteristics of the skin. 

 

Topical Treatments

Topical treatments are one option dermatologist used to help treat stretch marks. Topical treatments such as high strength prescription-based vitamin A creams have been shown to be effective in treating stretch marks. This form of vitamin A is used to help collagen production which can help make stretch marks look more similar to normal dermis.  Over the counter, cosmeceutical strength vitamin A cream are ineffective in treating stretch-marks.

CO2 Laser Resurfacing

Another option that is sometimes used is CO2 laser resurfacing. This uses a fractional laser to help stimulate fibroblasts and remodel the dermis which may or may not help reduce the appearance of stretch marks.

RF Microneedling

Radiofrequency (RF) Microneedling uses microneedles to puncture and heat the dermis leading to variable constriction and tightening of the skin. RF microneedling may also stimulate the production of collagen and elastin production. 

Vascular Laser

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. 

Specialist Skin Services

As an all-round specialist dermatology clinic, we work with our patients to achieve their goals and always maintain professional standards.