For so many women, stretch marks (medical term “striae”) are an unavoidable and unpleasant side effect of pregnancy. They can also affect bodybuilders, as well as anyone else who has gained or lost a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. Some people are even unlucky enough to acquire them during the growth spurts of puberty (commonly found on the lower back). Although maintaining a stable weight and taking good care of one’s skin are certainly steps in the right direction, the unfortunate truth is that heredity and hormonal changes play a considerable role in the formation of stretch marks.
There are many oils, creams, and lotions that are purported to improve or even prevent stretch marks. While Retin-A has been shown to be marginally effective at reducing the apparent depth of stretch marks, and there are those who swear by treatments with other lotions and potions, most medical experts agree that the claims are mostly hype.
With the advent of the use of lasers for cosmetic purposes, though, hope for the treatment of this cosmetic problem seems to have been renewed.
So, can lasers really erase stretch marks?
The answer is no, well not completely anyway. Since stretch marks represent a permanent change in the dermis (the deeper layer of skin beneath the surface layer known as the epidermis), there is no amount of resurfacing that can erase them. However, studies have shown that laser treatments can lessen the depth of stretch marks in some patients, with an improvement rate of between 20 and 50%. The improvement is believed to be largely due to the laser’s stimulation of increased production of collagen and elastin in the dermal (deeper) layer of the skin, where stretch marks are formed.
Lasers are most effective on immature stretch marks (those that are still red in colour), where a combination of BBL (broadband light) and Profractional lasers can reduce the colour and depth of the stretch marks. For mature or white stretch marks, improvement is less pronounced. The BBL is essentially ineffective, but the Profractional laser is capable of moderately smoothing out deeper set scars. For scars that are white or silver and feel mostly smooth to the touch, there is very little a laser can do to improve the appearance.
In short, there is no “cure” for stretch marks. Worse yet, prevention of stretch marks is not entirely in your power, especially during times of great hormonal fluctuations, such as pregnancy and puberty. If your mother has stretch marks, there’s a good chance that you will have them, too. Keeping the skin hydrated helps to maintain elasticity, and may help the skin to “bounce back”, but there is no guarantee.
Only you can decide if a 20-50% improvement in the appearance of your stretch marks will prove satisfying. With realistic expectations in mind, these improvements can make a big difference for some people. To neutralize the colour of stretch marks and to reduce the depth (and width) of the scars can visibly reduce what was once an angry red scar to a fine white line that is nothing more than a mere nuisance.
~ Sheri Roselle, Medical Esthetician at Toronto Dermatology Centre