Stretch marks, otherwise known as “striae”, is one of the most commonly seen lesions in both men and women worldwide.
In short, they occur whenever there is rapid and continuous stretching of the skin – which disturbs the underlying network of the collagen and elastin fibers found in the middle layer of the skin. This is why the skin is often left less taut and pigmented.
Here are the most common reasons why stretch marks occur:
2. Rapid weight gain
3. High hormonal levels (e.g. during puberty or pregnancy)
4. Certain illnesses (e.g. Cushing and Marfan syndrome)
5. Prolonged use of topical corticosteroids
Stretch marks often pop up on the abdomen, breasts, thighs, and buttocks in females, and the shoulders, upper arms, and lower back in males. Unfortunately, stretch marks are a common problem that affects approximately 50% – 90% of pregnant women – especially during their third trimester.
Types of stretch marks: Straie Rubrae and Striae Albae
In order to choose the best stretch mark removal treatment – it is vital to first identify the type of stretch marks you have.
Straie rubrae is recognized as “early” stretch marks – appearing as raised and reddish lesions that are itchy. Overtime, they fade into matured scars that are white in color, which are called straie albae.
Straie rubrae is easier to treat than straie albae, as the presence of functioning blood vessels makes them more responsive to treatment. As time passes, the blood vessels narrow, which can make it more difficult to fade the scars and lengthen the time needed to improve their appearance.
Due to their contrasting characteristics, this means they will react differently to varying treatment options as well.
Treatment options available
There are plenty of stretch mark removal options available to both men and women, and they can be categorized into three main groups:
1) Topical ointments, creams and oils
3) Laser Therapy
Although topical treatments such as almond oil and cocoa butter are both cost-effective and accessible – there is weak evidence to support its effectiveness in removing stretch marks, although they can be helpful in reducing its severity and improving the texture of the overall skin.
Of all the creams available, retinoids such as topical tretinoin (0.1%) seem to be the most promising for early stretch marks – one study showed a reduction in the length and width of stretch marks by 14% and 8% respectively after 6 months of treatment. However, they can cause irritation on the skin, and aren’t recommended for pregnant women.
On the other hand, micro-needling seems to be effective for not just straie rubrae, but straie albae as well. This was reflected in studies carried among Korean, South Africa and German women who have undergone just one to four treatments.
However, the treatment that produces the most significant results and is much more comfortable for patients is laser stretch mark removal.
Studies have shown that the 1,064nm long-pulsed Nd:YAG laser is most effective in improving the appearance of “early” stretch marks. Across all the available lasers used, majority have shown improvements in the length, depth and coloration of stretch marks. However, best results are seen when removing straie rubrae.
It seems that laser treatment has the biggest potential in effectively removing stretch marks with confidence – but only when performed by an experienced dermatologist.
How laser stretch mark removal works
Laser stretch mark removal acts by employing controlled damage to stimulate the natural regeneration process and remodel collagen and elastin in the skin.
The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) reported that laser treatment can improve the appearance of stretch marks by as much as 20% – 60% after several sessions.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology also showed that laser treatment works for both straie rubrae and striae albae – while Fractional CO2 lasers exhibit the strongest results for older stretch marks by inducing the stimulation of collagen, the long-pulsed Nd:YAG long-pulsed laser works better on “early” stretch marks as it targets the oxyhemoglobin in the skin to improve the redness.
We like to use the Vbeam laser – a pulsed-dye laser that is very successful in breaking down the pigmentations responsible for red stretch marks. We then combine it with the Fraxel Dual laser to help mend the tears in the dermis.
Combining 2 powerful wavelengths (1550nm and 1927nm) and offering a solution that treats a variety of skin problems – the Fraxel Dual laser excels at stimulating collagen remodeling, as well as working simultaneously to improve pigmentation.
We have noticed that stretch marks respond extremely well to Fraxel Dual laser treatment – with noticeable results after just one treatment session!
Since the skin on the abdomen and thighs heal much slower than the skin and face, and also develops pigmentation much easier – those with darker skin tones should take precautions to avoid hyperpigmentation and follow aftercare instructions diligently. However, since Fraxel Dual lasers are non-ablative – this means faster results and recovery times that is safe for all skin types!
A not-so-obvious solution that works: Tummy Tuck surgery
If all other treatments prove unsuccessful, and you happen to be one of the many ladies who has received unsightly stretch marks as a result of pregnancy – then perhaps consider getting a tummy tuck.
A popular cosmetic surgery medically known as an abdominoplasty – it helps to remove excess skin and fat from your abdomen to give it a tighter and flatter look, and can also permanently remove stretch marks for good!
During the surgery, the doctor will first make a long incision that extends from hip to hip, depending on the type of tummy tuck you are doing. Excess skin and fat is then removed, and the skin above the abdomen is pulled down to achieve a tighter appearance. The doctor will then proceed to reposition your belly button before closing the incision.
As with every surgical procedure, a tummy tuck comes with its own set of risks such as poor wound healing and the possibility of an infection. There is also a longer recovery period and a small, linear scar involved which might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
However, many patients report a dramatic reduction in the number of stretch marks after a tummy tuck procedure, although this is limited to only stretch marks found BELOW the belly button.
What is the best treatment for you?
If you simply want to lessen the appearance of your stretch marks without going under the knife – then laser treatment is the ultimate choice.
For majority of cases, laser stretch mark removal is sufficient enough to do the job, and skilled doctors can control their appearance to the point they almost appear invisible to the naked eye.
Stretch Mark Laser Removal
The safety of laser treatment is extremely safe when done under an experienced doctor who knows how to work the device using appropriate parameters.
In determining the best treatment for you, it is best to consider the type of stretch marks you have, as well as your specific skin type.
As mentioned earlier, long-pulsed lasers have been shown to be more effective for early stretch marks, while fractional lasers work better on older stretch marks. This is why our doctors like to use a combination of lasers to do the job.
A typical combination laser treatment procedure utilizes 3 to 4 lasers – we use the latest Edge Fractional CO2 treatment and Fraxel Dual laser, combined with vascular lasers such as the V-beam and Q-switched Nd:YAG lasers to treat even the toughest stretch marks.
We enjoy using Vbeam due to its gentle heating effect that selectively targets the blood vessels responsible for pigmentation; and breaking it down without harming the surrounding tissues.
Another one of our favourite lasers for treating post-pregnancy stretch marks is the Fraxel Dual laser – studies have shown a 75% improvement in appearance in just one week after treatment, with bigger improvements being reported in the following weeks!
Our doctors have more than 18 years of experience dealing with lasers to treat a variety of skin conditions, including acne scar removal without causing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Delivering natural-looking results with no downtime – contact us today for the best stretch mark removal treatment that caters to your unique goals!
- Can I completely eliminate stretch marks?
Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee a 100% removal of all your stretch marks and its recurrence in the future – our best advice is to start treatment as soon as possible in order to see maximum results.
In addition, you should try your best to maintain a healthy weight and take good care of your skin.
- What lasers do you use to remove stretch marks?
We like to use the Fractional CO2 laser, which is a popular and effective acne laser treatment, as it allows for up to a 75% reduction in noticeable stretch marks in just a few treatments.
We also utilize the Fraxel Dual, V-beam, and Q-switched Nd:YAG lasers to design a personalized treatment plan for each individual including pregnant women.
- Is it normal for my skin to be red after treatment?
In fact, redness indicates that your skin is healing. You are likely to experience some redness, swelling and irritation after the treatment which typically subsides in a few days.