Stretch marks, or striae, are a form of skin scarring associated with pregnancy, obesity, puberty, and short-term weight gain from bodybuilding and other physical activities. They form when the dermis – the middle layer of the skin that maintains shape and elasticity – is stretched more than it can tolerate. Connective fibers in the skin eventually break, disrupting collagen production and causing scarring. This scarring may be treatable only through stretch mark removal.
While there are many suitable candidates for stretch mark removal, the most common patients are women who have recently given birth. Stretch marks and pregnancy usually go hand in hand - almost three in four women will experience stretch marks after pregnancy. These women usually suffer from belly stretch marks, but other areas may also be affected, resulting in the need for mommy makeover surgery. Other candidates include people who have lost significant weight and bodybuilders who have quickly developed significant muscle mass.
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Causes of Stretch Marks
Both men and women are susceptible to stretch marks, particularly on the thighs, hips, arms, buttocks, abdominal area, and lower back. There are several causes of stretch marks, including:
Genetics: Women are more likely to get belly stretch marks if their mother, for instance, had stretch marks after pregnancy. Significant weight gain and loss: Your skin stretches as your weight fluctuates, sometimes resulting in stretch marks.
Puberty: Growth spurts during puberty often result in stretch marks as the skin is unable to keep up with the body's rate of growth.
Bodybuilding: Rapid development of muscle mass may stretch the skin beyond its limits.
Corticosteroids: Heavy or long-term use of oral or topical corticosteroids, a widely used pharmaceutical steroid compound, can lead to stretch mark formation.
Ethnicity: People with darker skin are less likely to have stretch marks.
Stretch Marks after Pregnancy
Stretch marks after pregnancy are particularly common. Nearly three in four women will develop stretch marks on their legs, abdomen, hips, and other areas of the body affected by weight gain during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, the skin expands and stretches to its limit, causing tiny tears in the supporting layers of skin. These tiny tears are stretch marks that appear as glossy, white streaks in the skin. Many women who have stretch marks after pregnancy turn to laser stretch mark removal to eliminate this unwanted scarring. This treatment is designed to give women the renewed, youthful appearance they desire.
- RELATED: Mommy Makeovers are a combination of post-pregnancy plastic surgery, skin treatment, and cellulite removal
Areas of the Body That Can Be Affected by Stretch Marks
Stretch marks can affect any area of the body in which the skin is subject to rapid stretching. The abdomen is the area most often affected by stretch marks, but they are also common around the thighs, hips, buttocks, lower back, arms, and chest. Skin in all these areas is subject to high stress as a result of heavy use and rapid expansion. Theoretically, any area of the body could be vulnerable to stretch marks if the skin is stretched enough as a result of tissue expansion.
There are a number of other considerations for patients that undergo stretch mark removal treatment. Patients should have realistic expectations about the results that their desired treatment method can offer. Patients that undergo stretch mark removal surgery should be in good health; patients undergoing surgery will need to discuss their medical history and medication list with their surgeons prior to treatment. Patients should also be aware of the costs of their stretch mark removal treatment.
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Natural Stretch Mark Removal
Traditional stretch mark removal treatments include creams, lotions, and recommendations for regular diet and exercise. There are a wide variety of products available on the market for natural stretch mark removal. However, these methods fail to produce satisfactory results for many individuals, particularly those with old, well-developed stretch mark scars. In these cases, more involved medical treatment may be the only effective option.
It is difficult to accurately gauge the effectiveness of natural stretch mark removal strategies. An array of products claim to remove or reduce the appearance of stretch marks, but very little real data is available to support these claims. In general, these products are most effective when applied to fresh stretch marks. Even in these cases, however, natural stretch mark removal products often simply help the stretch mark fade more quickly.
Natural stretch mark removal products, such as Striae Stretch Mark Removal cream, are typically less expensive than more involved cosmetic dermatology procedures. The products used are widely available for purchase both over the internet and from a variety of skin care retailers. Because they are non-surgical, their use does not require visits to a clinic or spa, and the better known brands are generally very safe.
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There are a number of potential risks associated with natural stretch mark removal. Because there are so many topical products available that claim to heal stretch marks, each product is subject to relatively little oversight. This means that some of the less reputable products are largely or totally ineffective. Worse still, it is possible that some of these products may contain ingredients that actually pose a health risk to the customer. Additionally, the cost of exploring a variety of ineffective natural options can be comparable to the cost of a single reliable professional treatment.
Laser Stretch Mark Removal
During a laser stretch mark removal procedure, a beam of light removes thin layers of skin around the stretch marks. The excimer laser is uniquely effective for this procedure. Instead of burning or cutting the affected skin areas like other lasers, it uses high-energy ultraviolet laser light to disrupt the molecular bonds in the skin tissue, which causes the tissue to disintegrate in a process known as ablation. Once laser stretch mark removal is complete, the treated area will heal quickly, and new layers of healthy skin will form. Stretch marks will have disappeared, and a renewed, healthy appearance will result.
Immediately following laser stretch mark removal, the affected area will be red and tender. This is because layers of scarred skin have been removed and new skin is being grown. Occasionally blistering and other symptoms typical of a burn injury may be present, but these are temporary. Most patients heal from a treatment within a few days, but healing has been known to take as long as a few weeks in certain cases, particularly those requiring more extensive therapy.
Laser stretch mark removal is highly effective in most cases. As with any other technique, success is dependent on the prevalence and age of the stretch marks in question - older and more serious stretch marks are more difficult to treat. Patients often require as many as 10 treatments to completely remove stretch marks. In the most serious cases, even a series of laser treatments may only reduce the visibility of stretch marks rather than removing them completely. Each case is unique.
The most important benefit of laser stretch mark removal is its effectiveness. The treatment has a very high rate of patient satisfaction. It is also extremely safe; the excimer laser is precisely controlled, with little potential to cause injury. Ultimately, it is less invasive than surgical body sculpting procedures such as tummy tucks, with less recovery time, lower cost, and fewer potential complications.
As with any medical procedure, laser stretch mark removal is not completely without risk. Because the laser has the ability to ablate the skin, it is possible that a mishandled laser could cause some superficial tissue damage. For this reason, you should choose your cosmetic dermatologist carefully. There is always a risk that severely entrenched stretch marks may not be completely removable with laser treatment. There is also the risk of blistering and other negative reactions to the treatment, but these complications are temporary and not life threatening.
Surgical Stretch Mark Removal
Surgical stretch mark removal is the only effective option for the complete and permanent elimination of stretch marks. Other methods, including laser stretch mark removal and natural stretch mark removal techniques, can fade stretch marks and lessen their prominence but can't fully remove them. While posing no health risk, stretch marks remain a source of anxiety and insecurity for many people. If patients wish to eliminate stretch marks instead of simply camouflaging them, then surgical stretch mark removal remains the only viable solution.
Areas of the Body That Can Be Treated
Abdominoplasty, more commonly referred to as a "tummy tuck," is currently the only effective surgical procedure for stretch mark removal. The tummy tuck tightens abdominal muscles and removes excess skin in the mid to lower abdominal region. All stretch marks below the naval are discarded along with the excess skin. At this time, there are no surgical procedures for stretch mark removal in other areas of the body.
Because if this limitation, surgical stretch mark removal is only performed on patients that qualify for the tummy tuck procedure. Candidates for tummy tuck surgery include patients in good health that do not smoke and have a significant amount of excess skin on the stomach.
The cost of stretch mark removal varies widely depending on the technique being used and the severity of the scars in question. Natural techniques like creams and lotions are generally the cheapest and least involved, but also the least effective. Surgical treatment is generally the most expensive, though repeated laser treatments result in similar costs. You should consult your cosmetic dermatology specialist for more detailed information.
Other Stretch Mark Removal Treatments
Cosmetic dermatologists offer a variety of non-surgical alternatives for treating stretch marks. Popular and effective options include chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and blue light therapy. These are good options for patients who want to avoid surgery, and they are generally less expensive than laser stretch mark removal. Like all non-surgical stretch mark treatments, these options are most effective on newer scars. Mature stretch marks may require the use of surgical techniques for total removal.
Chemical peels are most commonly used on the face to treat wrinkles and age spots, but they can be used on other areas of the body for stretch mark removal. In the chemical peel procedure, a chemical solution is applied to the skin using a sponge, cotton pad, cotton swab, or brush. The types and strengths of the chemicals in the solution vary according to the individual patient’s needs. The chemicals essentially peel off the top layers of damaged, dead skin and activate new skin cell production. Patients might feel a stinging or burning sensation during treatment. The recovery period depends on the patient’s skin type and the strength of the chemicals administered, and multiple treatments may be necessary to achieving optimal results. It’s important to bear in mind that a chemical peel will not remove stretch marks completely; however, they usually fade as a result of treatment, and patients emerge with smoother, healthier, more youthful looking skin.
Both microdermabrasion and chemical peels improve the appearance of stretch marks through the removal of the skin’s top layers. Chemical peels achieve this goal by using chemicals to “burn” the top layer away while microdermabrasion uses a fine crystal spray to “blast” the outermost layers of skin. Dead skin cells are removed and new, healthy skin cells take their place. The new cells produce more collagen and elastin, two vital components of smooth, young looking skin. Microdermabrasion is a painless procedure that takes no more than an hour to complete and involves little recovery time. An additional five to twelve treatments are needed to reap the maximum benefits of the procedure. Keep in mind that, although microdermabrasion can improve the appearance of scars, it is not an effective means of complete stretch mark removal.
Blue Light Therapy
Although more widely used for acne treatment, blue light therapy is sometimes used to improve the appearance of stretch marks. Blue light therapy entails the application a photosensitive gel to the skin, which is then exposed to bursts of light energy. While complete stretch mark removal is unrealistic, patients may notice some improvement, especially in the appearance of newer stretch marks.
Consult a Stretch Mark Removal Specialist in Your Area
Because stretch mark removal is customized to the individual patient, consulting a cosmetic dermatologist specializing in stretch mark removal is the best way to get information on your specific case. Use the DocShop listings to find a stretch mark removal specialist near you.