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What are they?
Stretch marks, or striae, are scar formations that occur in the dermis, a deep layer of skin, when skin is stretched beyond its limit. The stretching causes a rupture or break in the collagen and elastic fibres.
“Early stretch marks, called striae rubra, are red or purple,” says Dr. Sonya Cook, dermatologist at Compass Dermatology in Toronto. “More mature stretch marks—striae alba—are typically depressed and the overlying skin appears thin, or atrophic, and is lighter in colour than the surrounding skin.”
Who gets them?
Almost 80 percent of women have or will get stretch marks over their lifetime. The scars most commonly develop during pregnancy , but can also appear with growth during puberty, with rapid weight gain or simply due to genetics. They most frequently appear on the abdomen, breasts, thighs and buttocks.
Let’s talk prevention
After adolescence, the period of the most rapid weight gain for many women is pregnancy, and this drastic change puts significant strain on the skin. Once a woman discovers she’s pregnant, the best preventive step is “to start using a silicone-based product to keep hydration in and protect the skin as much as possible,” says Chantal Ward, registered nurse and owner of Clarity MedSpa. “The more moist your skin, the healthier it is.”
Also avoid unprotected exposure to the sun. “Getting a suntan means you’re photo-damaging your skin and destroying healthier cells, says Ward. “This allows existing stretch marks to become worse.”
Types of treatments
No existing treatment will result in the total removal of stretch marks. “If you decide to treat your stretch marks, you need to have realistic expectations and decide what the degree of improvement is worth given the expense,” says Dr. Cook.
Tretinoin cream, available by prescription, can “increase collagen synthesis in the dermis and has been shown to improve the appearance of stretch marks,” says Dr. Cook. The cream shouldn’t be used during pregnancy.
Some laser and light treatments have been found to improve the appearance of stretch marks. Typically, doctors won’t use just one method, opting for a mix of approaches. “The laser and light sources that target the red component of striae, such as pulsed dye or Nd:YAG lasers, and IPL (intense pulsed light) or broadband light, can reduce the redness of early stretch marks and are purported to increase collagen synthesis,” says Dr. Cook.
Fractional resurfacing lasers have also been shown to stimulate collagen and reduce the appearance of scars. “Expect about a 30 percent improvement in the appearance of stretch marks following multiple combined treatments with broadband light and fractionated laser resurfacing,” says Dr. Cook.
Some other treatments that the doctor may try include Pixel, a more aggressive laser that deals with texture issues, and, micro-needling, a newer procedure that creates an injury (with needles) on the skin’s surface in order to create a wound response, says Ward. This is done under a controlled, healthy environment, allowing the doctor to go back in and heal it.
Cosmetic procedures such as these could take three to six treatments to be effective, and they start at $250 per visit.
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Clarins Stretch Mark Control, $54, beautyboutique.ca.
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