Published February 19, 2009
Nearly every woman has anxiety over them. I'm talking about stretch marks. They are one of the most discussed and common concerns voiced by my female patients.
Stretch marks are caused when the skin is stretched to the point that it actually breaks down. The marks are scars that represent weaknesses in the skin's supporting structure. Stretch marks are a normal occurrence in women, men and children. In women, stretch marks are exacerbated by times of quick growth, such as pregnancy, weight gain and growth spurts. In men, stretch marks are usually a result of rapid weight gain or from body building. In children, stretch marks are caused by extreme growth associated with puberty or obesity.
Stretch mark scars usually first appear red or purple and over time may fade to white or hypopigmented as the scar matures. Stretch marks can be seen on different body parts including hips, breasts, buttocks, thighs, and abdomens. They can even present on the chest, arms and legs of obese people.
Both heredity and ethnicity play a key role in one's susceptibility to stretch marks. Patients may have a genetic predisposition to stretch marks. So... if your mother had them, you may, too. While ethnicity plays a roll, people with greater amounts of melanin are less prone.
Preventing stretch marks is difficult, but there are three key things you can do to help curb their appearance.
Drink Water: Drinking water keeps your entire body and your skin well hydrated. This keeps your skin supple and less prone to the tears associated with stretch marks.
Moisturize: Ladies, if you are pregnant, it's especially important during the 7th or 8th month of pregnancy when your skin is stretching so much that it becomes itchy that you DON'Tscratch! Instead, keep your stomach well hydrated from the outside. Rub lotion on, especially an ultra rich moisturizing cream like Cocoa Butter.
Exercise: Doing some form of daily exercise and stretching can keep your skin agile and free of toxins. Sweat helps clean out and hydrate the skin while purifying the body.
When it comes to treatment, two types of light sources have been used to improve the appearance of stretch marks. The first is a light source designed to re-pigment the skin. This therapy called narrow band UVB, or NB-UVB is primarily used to re-pigment the skin in patients with Vitiligo. Some studies indicate that NB-UVB can help reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
The second option is to use a fractional laser such as the Fraxel. Multiple treatments may be needed to minimize the appearance of the stretch mark scar in terms of tone and texture.
Bottomline... Even though these treatments can minimize the appearance of the stretch mark scar, nothing promises complete resolution. Your best bet is to drink water, moisturize and exercise.
Dr. Neil Sadick is one of the most renowned dermatologists and researchers whose multiple discoveries have strongly influenced and transformed the future of dermatology. He is a Professor of Dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College and President of the Cosmetic Surgery Foundation. Dr. Sadick is author, or co-author, of more than 500 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals and has contributed more than 75 chapters of medical books. Read more at