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4 ways to reduce the appearance of your stretch marks

Discover everything you need to know about your stretch marks and the expert approved treatment methods that will lessen their appearance

Stretch marks are perfectly normal and incredibly common, yet they tend to be hidden as much as possible and shrouded in secrecy. We quizzed Dr David Jack on all things stretch marks; what they are exactly, how to treat them and whether they are truly reversible…

What are stretch marks?

Dubbed striae in the medical world, stretch marks are essentially linear tears in the dermis layer of the skin that are the result of the stretching and tearing of collagen fibres in this middle layer of the skin. When stretch marks first appear they tend to be red, purple, pink, reddish-brown, or dark brown, depending on your skin colour. Early stretch marks may feel slightly raised and can be itchy for the first six to 12 weeks, before the inflammation decreases and they become less sensitive and settle on a colour that’s lighter in hue than your natural skin tone.

Why do we get them?

There are a number of ways why dermal tears, aka stretch marks may develop. Firstly, hormonal shifts during puberty, pregnancy, or as a result of certain hormonal conditions can predispose you to their formation. Secondly, periods of growth or rapid weight gain can also cause stretch marks to form as a result of stretching of the tissues. Stretch mark formation is also common in men who abuse anabolic steroids, as they cause the rapid expansion of muscle tissue and hormonal changes, too.

Where can we get them?

Unsurprisingly, during pregnancy stretch marks tend to appear on the mid and lower abdomen and breasts. During teenage growth spurts, they predominantly affect the legs, arms and chest, but that doesn’t rule out other parts of the body too. Just as there is a genetic predisposition to stretch marks, so too can genetics influence where you get them.

Is it possible to reverse stretch marks?

Stretch marks are essentially tears in the dermis due to damaged collagen fibres, so repairing these tears is key to treatment. Generally, they won’t totally disappear but increasing the abundance of collagen and elastin fibres in the areas of damage should help thicken the skin in the area of the tears, as well as reduce the width of the tears to lessen the overall appearance of stretch marks.

Are collagen boosting retinoids a good treatment choice?

Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A and make for powerful collagen stimulants, however, when it comes to stretch marks, topical retinoids are unlikely to be an effective treatment choice.

Why is microneedling a good treatment for stretch marks?

In clinic microneedling usually uses pins of 2-3mm (vs at home up to max 0.5mm), so can reach into the deeper levels of the dermis, where the micro-injuries they create cause fibroblast activation to create collagen-rich tissue.

Over time and with repeated treatments you may well see some improvement, but to soup things up radio frequency microneedling is worth a try. One such device, Morpheus8, can be used on most skin types and tones, and has the ability to penetrate deeper into the skin – up to 4mm. The radio frequency converts to heat in the tissues, stimulating a far greater response than microneedling alone.

Can lasers treat stretch marks?

CO2 lasers like the Fraxel laser is a gentler laser that, rather than remove the top layers of skin, creates micro injuries on the skin surface, which in turn creates and stimulates collagen in the upper levels of the dermis. It works best on newer stretch marks but can be used to treat older ones, too.

Is PRP an option for stretch marks?

PRP belongs to a group of techniques known as ‘biostimulation treatments’. By re-injecting your own platelets  – which are components of the blood that contains your growth factors – you can stimulate cells in the skin to produce new collagen and elastin, and to speed up the healing of wounds.

It's best to have about four to six treatments at two week intervals to treat stretch marks, and two to three a year for maintenance. Over time, skin can thicken and the appearance of stretch marks may reduce. PRP can be performed in conjuction with microneedling or Morpheus8 to boost the effects of any other treatment being performed.

Can filler be used to treat stretch marks?

Oddly, some practitioners have been known to recommend biostimulatory fillers as these add volume and stimulate collagen. However, there is a risk that fillers can actually make the stretch mark appear more prominent. With this in mind, filler is a  risk that many don’t recommend you take.

Carboxytherapy is the only other injectable worth trying. This treatment injects heated CO2 gas directly into stretch marks, creating a strongly acidic environment in the tissues. This stimulates the fibroblast cells to increase their activity which results in increased production of collagen and elastin in the stretch marks. Usually, sessions will be performed weekly for about 10-12 weeks for optimal results.

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