The skin is like a large layer of spandex covering our body. If you pull on your skin and let go, it will snap back into place, following the contours of your body. When the skin is forced to stretch at a rate that cannot be sustained by its elasticity, stretch marks can form.
Stretch marks (also known as striae) commonly occur during the rapid growth experienced during puberty and pregnancy. The development of body contours, such as breasts, the bulking up of muscles, and rapid weight gain can also cause striae. The likelihood of striae forming is increased when the cortisone levels in the body are elevated.
Seen under a microscope, a stretch mark will reveal only a few elastic fibres in the centre and an abundance of curled and clustered elastic fibres at the edges. The collagen fibres, which are protein building blocks of the skin, are separated rather than grouped into bundles.
Initially these appear as red and purple lines of varying lengths and widths. Sometimes they are wrinkled and shiny. Gradually they fade to the same colour or shade lighter than the surrounding skin and remain that way.
Women are more prone to stretch marks than men because of their hormones. They usually appear on the breasts, the lower abdomen, and buttocks and thighs, and the under portion of the upper arms.
First consider prevention. Avoid prolonged use of potent cortisone skin preparations, which weaken the elastic fibers of the skin, and resist the temptation to use steroids to develop a muscular physique.
Vitamin E oil, aloe vera, and similar agents will not prevent or reverse stretch marks and often cause allergic reactions. However tretinoin when used in high doses may be effective. The drawback is that the dosage required causes the skin to be very irritated, dry and itchy. This can be very annoying and many people find the course of treatment difficult.
In the early stages of stretch mark development when they are purplish/red in color, lasers which remove veins (Dye lasers) are usually very effective in removing the redness and preventing the elastin and collagen fibers from becoming disorganized. Unfortunately most people wait until the stretch marks are mature before they seek help, so this treatment is rarely used.
Fractional ablative lasers have also been beneficial in reducing the visual impact of stretch marks, although this treatment tends to be more effective with newly formed stretch marks.
Stretch marks can also experience some improvement from fractional radiofrequency treatments such as Fractora and our new improved version, Morpheus8 RF microneedling.
Do you have another question that wasn’t addressed here? Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns you may have!