What are stretch marks?
As you may assume from their name, stretch marks form when the skin is suddenly stretched and it remains stretched for a period of time. Stretch marks appear as long, narrow streaks or lines on the skin in a different hue than the surrounding skin. They can form on most areas of the body, but are most common on the stomach/abdomen, thighs, hips, breasts, upper arms, and lower back. They form in the skin’s second layer, the dermis.
Causes of stretch marks to form
Stretch marks are the result of skin that is stretched faster than its ability to grow. They form in the dermis layer of the skin when the constant stretching of pregnancy or sudden weight gain causes tears in the skin. The connecting fibers in the dermis overstretch and break. That’s why stretch marks are red or purple when they first appear, because blood vessels are showing through the tears in the dermis. Over time, they fade to a silvery, white, glossy appearance.
Stretch marks are common in pregnant women, with around 90 percent of women developing them after their sixth or seventh month of pregnancy. They are also common in body builders who build muscle mass quickly.
What are the best treatment options for stretch marks?
There is no magic solution to the irritation that is stretch marks. Almost all pregnant women get them and they are an unfortunate part of the process. While there is no way, short of surgery, to fully remove stretch marks, at Smooth Solutions Medical Aesthetics, we offer four treatments to thoroughly lessen their appearance: Ultrasonic Dermawave, IPL, microneedling, and platelet-rich plasma.
Because stretch marks occur in the dermis layer of the skin beneath the epidermis, treatments that target the dermis have the best chance of success. One of those is Dermawave. Dermawave delivers ultrasonic energy through the epidermis into the dermis. This energy easily penetrates the epidermis (think ultrasound tests during pregnancy). In the dermis layer the ultrasound energy converts to heat. When the body senses heat in the dermis layer of the skin, it thinks there has been a wound and it responds with a wound-healing response. This response is to remodel existing collagen in the area and, more importantly, to produce new supplies of collagen and elastin to heal the perceived wound. In reality, there was never an actual wound, but the skin improves its firmness and texture. This lessens the appearance of stretch marks.
Intense Pulsed Light
IPL treatments have long been successful for improving the skin, but this is one of the newest treatments for stretch marks. Intense Pulsed Light is different than laser light. IPL delivers a broad spectrum of light onto and into the skin. Laser energy delivers a single wavelength. IPL also enters the dermis and converts to heat. As with ultrasound energy, this triggers a wound-healing response with new collagen and elastin production. At Smooth Solutions, we’ve found IPL to be effective on more subtle stretch marks.
Microneedling uses the Rejuvapen, a pen-like device with nine microneedles. As the Rejuvapen is moved across the area where the patient has stretch marks, the needles oscillate up and down and create hundreds of microscopic punctures through the epidermis down into the dermis. The penetration depth can be adjusted depending on the treatment area. These hundreds of tiny perforations also make the body think a wound has occurred and it responds with collagen and elastin to heal it. In reality, the microscopic punctures are so small they fully heal in just a couple of hours. Microneedling is great for treating skin problems such as hyperpigmentation, uneven tone, and stretch marks.
Platelet-rich plasma involves taking a blood sample and placing it in a centrifuge to remove the red blood cells. What is left is blood platelets, white blood cells, and plasma — platelet-rich plasma, PRP. PRP puts the healing power of platelets, white blood cells, and various growth factors to work improving the skin. Professional athletes have used PRP for over a decade to help speed recovery after injury or surgery.
At Smooth Solutions, we can add PRP to these other stretch mark treatments or use it on its own to improve your skin’s texture and tone. When that happens, the appearance of your stretch marks decreases.
How many treatments will I need to improve my stretch marks?
These are not instant solutions. Each of these procedures produces results that build upon the previous treatment. This is because long after your Dermasound, IPL, microneedling, or PRP treatment, the body continues to produce new amounts of collagen. This continues to improve the skin texture, tone, and firmness for weeks.
As we see where your stretch marks are located and how visible they are, we will be able to give you an idea of how many treatments will be necessary to really lessen their appearance. Plus, everyone’s healing mechanisms work at different rates. Expect a series of treatments with all of these options.
What determines the best treatment option for my stretch marks?
Skin thickness varies depending on where your stretch marks are located. For instance, skin on the flanks is much thicker than the skin on the breasts. Microneedling works great in areas of thinner skin. Ultrasound energy can be better where the skin is thicker. Once we see your unique situation, our aestheticians will guide you to the treatment that should fit.
Risks of stretch mark treatments
These are all non-invasive, safe treatments. There is no recovery or downtime. These procedures are very low-risk.