Not Just a Pregnancy Issue: The Lowdown on Stretch Marks

Stretch marks or striae, a common bane for women of nearly every age, are often linked to pregnancy. While pregnancy is certainly a risk factor for the development of these unsightly lines, it is not the only reason stretch marks occur. Rarely a medical concern, stretch marks can cause significant cosmetic embarrassment, which can have a direct impact on your quality of life overall. Fortunately, treatments are now available that effectively reduce the appearance of stretch marks without discomfort or downtime.

What are Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks are lines that occur on the abdomen, breasts, buttocks, thighs or hips. As the name suggests, stretch marks occur when the skin stretches rapidly, causing damage to the underlying dermal layers. Depending on your age, genetics and other factors, your risk for developing stretch marks at some point in your life could be anywhere from 40-90 percent.

Stretch marks can take on a number of different looks, depending on their severity, their duration and your skin tone. Possible variations might include:

  • Streaks or lines indented into the skin
  • Streaks that are bright in color at first and fade over time
  • Red, blue or purple streaks, particularly in the early stages
  • Colored streaks that change to silvery gray in time
  • Streaks may be fairly inconspicuous or cover large areas of the body

Risk Factors for Stretch Marks

While it is impossible to predict for sure whether you will develop stretch marks, there are a few factors that might increase their likelihood:

  • Gender – women develop them much more frequently than men
  • Genetics – if you have a family member with stretch marks you may be more likely to develop them as well
  • Pregnancy – women that are pregnant in their younger adult years tend to be more prone to stretch marks
  • Weight – gaining a significant amount of weight or experiencing extreme weight fluctuations can lead to the formation of these lines
  • Medications – use of corticosteroid medications over an extended period of time has been linked to stretch marks
  • Medical Conditions – certain conditions, such as Cushing’s syndrome, Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome may increase your risk for developing stretch marks

Causes of Stretch Marks

There are three basic layers to the skin; the outer layer (epidermis), middle layer (dermis) and the inner layer (hypodermis). Stretch marks occur when excessive stretching takes place in the dermis, allowing the middle layer of skin to tear so the hypodermis can show through. This process is more likely to happen when levels of the stress hormone cortisol are very high in the body. Cortisol converts to cortisone, which weakens the skin fibers and can lead to tearing if the skin is stretched.

Why Topical Treatments don’t Work

There are many topical treatments on the market today that promise to eliminate those unsightly stretch marks with simple daily applications. However, there is little scientific evidence to suggest topical treatments alone will eliminate stretch marks. The problem lies in the fact that topical treatments cannot penetrate to the lower layers of the skin, where stretch marks originate. While these formulations may soften the skin and diminish the look of stretch marks, they are not actually treating the marks themselves.

Laser Treatments for Stretch Marks

Laser treatments, on the other hand, can reach to where stretch marks form, effectively treating the marks over the long term. The Icon laser used at Umansky Laser Center targets the stretch marks at their origin, triggering the body’s own healing process and collagen production to eliminate the stretch marks from view.

Fractional technology is the secret behind the Icon laser’s success. Fractional laser treatments create micro-injuries in the skin without disrupting surrounding skin and tissue. The tiny holes stimulate the generation of new cells and tissue, leaving stretch marks smoother and much less visible than before.

How it Works

Fractional technology is the latest in laser skin rejuvenation, because it can produce dramatic results with much less discomfort and downtime than ablative laser procedures. A topical numbing cream is applied prior to treatment to ensure patient comfort throughout the procedure. A handheld applicator delivers the laser energy underneath the skin’s surface without actually penetrating the skin.

Most Icon laser treatments take about 30 minutes to complete, depending on the size of the treatment area. After the procedure, skin may be somewhat red and slightly swollen, similar to a sunburn. Those side effects will subside within a few hours of the procedure. Most patients are able to return to their daily activities as soon as treatment is over.

Results over Time

The results of an Icon laser will appear and improve in the days and weeks following the procedure, as the healing process begins and new tissue is created. Stretch marks will become smaller and thinner, with most patients experiencing a 50-75 percent improvement in the appearance of their stretch marks. The majority of patients will need 3-5 monthly treatment sessions to achieve full results, which will be permanent.

The Icon laser is appropriate for nearly all skin types and tones, including darker skin colors. This is particularly beneficial, since many laser treatments do not work as effectively on darker skin, leaving patients with these skin tones with fewer treatment options. The Icon laser takes care of that issue with the ability to customize treatments to both very light and very dark skin colors, as well as every tone in between.

In addition to treating stretch marks, the Icon laser can also be used to treat unattractive scarring left by acne or chicken pox. The procedure may also be recommended for removing facial veins and pigmentation irregularities. At Umansky Plastic Surgery, we also use the Icon Aesthetic System for laser hair removal and skin rejuvenation procedures.

The Icon laser is giving new hope to patients struggling with unsightly stretch marks that make them self-conscious about their appearance. To learn more about this revolutionary treatment, contact Umansky Plastic Surgery at 858-281-4560.