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The Anatomy, Treatment, and Prevention of Stretch Marks

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Stretch marks are very common and appear in more than 50% of women. The dermal damage that occurs due to excessive stretching of the skin leads to striae or stretch marks. Striae initially appears as red flat and stretched lesions in our skin that are perpendicular to the direction of stretching. With time, these dermal tears develop into faded, wrinkled, and hypopigmented lesions. Stretch marks can be very distressing therefore understanding how to both treat and prevent them can lessen their psychological impact.

What Are Stretch Marks and How Do They Form?

Both genetic and lifestyle choices play a significant role in the development of stretch marks. They are often a symptom of weight gain, growth spurts, puberty, weight loss, steroid use, and pregnancy. They are common in areas of the body subjected to continuous and progressive stretching such as the breasts, abdomen, buttocks, thighs, and arms. When compared to normal skin without stretch marks, stretch marked skin appears to have densely packed collagen fibers, a natural result of wound repair. They also have reduced collagen, fibronectin, fibroblasts, and fibrillin proteins. Stretch marked skin also has mid-dermis elastosis. The elastosis of the mid-dermis is skin wrinkling that is a direct result of mutations in elastin, a vital protein in mammalian tissues. The damage in the skin is so severe that our skin’s repair responses and fibroblasts are functionally dormant in these areas and cannot replace or repair the lost components due to skin stretching.

Recent studies have also shed light on the genetic dispositions of stretch mark formation in individuals. Diagnostic tools revealed that stretch marks are associated with several conditions like adrenal cortical hyperfunction, diabetes, mild metabolic deficiencies, idiopathic fibroblast dysfunction, and possibly other conditions that give rise to functionally impaired fibroblast phenotypes. Clinical studies are considering the use of treatments that stimulate these impaired fibroblasts as possible therapeutic options. Stretch marks have gained so much interest over the past few decades that companies like 23andMe have generated Stretch Mark traits reports, to give their clients more insight into their genetic predisposition for stretch marks.

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How to Treat Stretch Marks

At-Home

Research has correlated moisturized skin with fewer stretch marks. It is believed that when the skin is moisturized and hydrated it is more elastic. Using well-formulated products with these key ingredients may improve and possibly prevent the appearance of the stretch marks in your skin:

  • Aloe Vera is a natural skin healing agent. Aloe vera contains mucopolysaccharides that bind moisture to your skin.
  • Cocoa Butter and Plant Oils are excellent emollients and occlusives. Massaging your skin with these ingredients can prevent transdermal water loss by sealing the moisture underneath it.
  • Topical collagen Enhancers such as hyaluronic acid, vitamin c, tretinoin and retinol have demonstrated positive effects in the deeper collagen layers of the skin. In some clinical studies, these ingredients have improved the appearance of stretch marks with regular application.

In the Office:

At-home topical treatments are great preventative and therapeutic options for stretch marks. However, the best treatments can be found in your dermatologist’s Office.

  • Professional Chemical Peels help diminish the appearance of scars, by stimulating cell regeneration and modifying the structure of the skin. This lightens the appearance of your stretch marks. A gentler alternative to in-office chemical peels is our Soft-Peeling Antiaging cream. This cream is infused with 8% glycolic acid and can be used to minimize the appearance of stretch marks in addition to discoloration of the face. This may be used to familiarize yourself with the peeling sensation prior to trying more deep chemical peels.
  • Cosmetic Lasers improve the appearance of stretch marks by restructuring the skin. The skin that resurfaces is smoother in both texture and appearance. Common options are ablative and non-ablative lasers. More information on these laser therapies can be seen in our blog here.
  • Microdermabrasion is an excellent stretch mark treatment as it encourages collagen production in the skin and promotes skin elasticity.
  • Surgical Procedures remove stretch marks in the skin via excisional surgery. The skin containing the stretch marks are removed permanently. Abdominoplasties and tummy tucks are often used to remove the stretch marks of the waist and lower abdomen.

Stretch Marks

How to Prevent Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are extremely hard to get rid of, therefore the key lies in prevention. Studies have proven that the use of heavy body moisturizers, and topical body oils help keep the skin hydrated and therefore are a great preventative treatment to stretch marks. Using products infused with topical collagen enhancers and elastin, like our Body Balm, is a great addition to your skincare routine for stretch mark prevention. In addition to this, maintaining a healthy weight, and a nutrient-rich diet are also key to prevention.

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