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Stretch Marks: Common Causes and Effective Treatment Options

Stretch marks are relatively common. Majority of people may first notice stretch marks appearing on their arms, thighs, or abdomen during puberty. They are also prone to developing when someone gains weight rapidly or during pregnancy. 

Why do I get stretch marks?

Also known as striae distensae, stretch marks is a common side effect that may happen to men and women when the skin is stretched too quickly.

It is a type of scar that develops when the skin undergoes extreme stretching during times of rapid weight gain, pregnancy, or growth. In some cases, it can also happen when there is rapid muscle gain in bodybuilders, after breast augmentation, or when the skin becomes too thin with chronic steroid use. Some medical conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome may also cause stretch marks.

Pregnant woman

By far, the most common cause of stretch marks occur in pregnant women. It is estimated that 50 to 90 percent of pregnant women develop stretch marks. 

Although they may not be medically dangerous, they can cause distress because it is disfiguring. Hence, many women seek treatment for stretch marks with varying degrees of success. 

Who are more prone in getting stretch marks?

For a simple fact that stretch marks are caused by extreme stretching of the skin, more women than men develop stretch marks on their bodies. Your race and genetic predisposition also play a part in determining if you are likely to get stretch marks.

During pregnancy, younger women tend to suffer from stretch marks more than older women. In addition, they are more common in pregnant women who are heavier to begin with, and women with large weight fluctuations during pregnancy.

How do stretch marks evolve?

Red stretch marks

Stretch marks appear and evolve over time in a characteristic manner. When they first appear on the skin, they look red. During this stage, they can appear oedematous, or bulging out. These newly formed stretch marks are called striae rubrae

White stretch marks

If left untreated over a long period of time, they turn white. White stretch marks are called striae alba. They become depressed atrophic scars with a wrinkly surface.

Can I prevent stretch marks during pregnancy?

Opting for topical products such as creams and moisturisers to prevent and treat stretch marks during pregnancy is a very common approach many women take. But did you know that most commercial products do not have proven efficacy in clinical studies?

Even the popular StriVectin-SD which is thought to work by increasing collagen synthesis, do not have published evidence on its efficacy on treating stretch marks. 

There are, however, a few topicals which are useful. Tretinoin was found to successfully treat newly formed, red stretch marks. It is important to note that tretinoin cannot be used during pregnancy and should only be used after you stop breastfeeding. 

Another commercial product called Bio Oil is rather promising. The company conducted some studies and results have shown improvement in the appearance of stretch marks.

Studies have shown that natural moisturisers such as cocoa butter and olive oil did not help to lighten stretch marks as compared to placebo. However, almond oil seems to help prevent stretch marks from forming.

What are some in-clinic treatments for stretch marks?

Stretch marks are notoriously difficult to treat. Doctors have used many different ways to improve its appearance with varying degrees of success.

As stretch marks are atrophic scars, treatments addressing stretch marks should induce dermal collagen production, reduce vascularity in striae rubrae, improve wrinkling and texture of the skin. 

In general, stretch marks are easier to treat when they are red and newly formed. 

eCO2 Laser

The most common treatment method for stretch marks is laser. A strong laser is required to induce significant collagen synthesis to treat stretch marks. In Radium Medical Aesthetics, carbon dioxide fractional resurfacing laser is used to create tiny holes in the skin so that new skin can grow. 

For new, red stretch marks, dual yellow laser or a pulsed dye laser is an optimal choice. 

Radiofrequency treatments can be combined with lasers to provide a better outcome. Radiofrequency treatments such as Tempsure, Tripollar, INFINI, combined with platelet rich plasma injection will yield excellent result. However, platelet rich plasma injection is not allowed in Singapore.

Stretch Marks Treatment using Radiesse

Using collagen stimulators is a relatively new approach to treat stretch marks. In some clinic studies, Radiesse has been used to successfully reduce appearance of stretch marks. 

Doctors are also exploring other injectable treatments such as Rejuran Healer and Profhilo to achieve similar outcomes with collagen stimulators. However, more scientific studies need to be conducted to measure its efficacy. 

Stretch marks are very challenging to treat. In order to achieve the best outcome, Radium Medical Aesthetics takes a multi-modality approach to reduce the appearance of stretch marks. This means that, sometimes, a combination of lasers, topicals and collagen stimulators is more likely to achieve optimal outcome.

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