It is estimated that approximately 70-80% of women who have given birth have suffered stretch marks. Stretch marks also are prevalent in teenage girls when going through rapid growth spurts and in people who undergo a rapid increase in body weight.
Structurally, stretch marks are tears in the deeper layer of the skin called the dermis. As skin stretches the deeper layer sheers creating a thinner area while the top layer of skin (the epidermis) stays intact. This results in visible lines with surface and texture irregularities and different color hue. The changes are usually permanent and improve very little with time.
Stretch marks typically occur around areas where weight gain is the most prominent such as the abdomen, breasts, and thighs. Over time these unsightly marks can fade from red and purple to white but they will never completely disappear. Creams and topical ointments may soften the surrounding skin but they will not improve the actual appearance of the stretch marks.
Stretch Mark Removal Methods
The team at the Dermlounge and Richmond Aesthetic Surgery offers two different methods of treatment depending on the age of the stretch marks and their severity. In general, the sooner the stretch marks are treated after they occur the better the final results.
Pulse Dye Laser
The first treatment option utilizes the Pulse Dye Laser, which targets the pigment found in red blood cells of the stretch marks to lighten the color and to activate collagen production. This will lead to a fading in color and decrease in size of the lesions. The Pulse Dye Laser only works on red stretch marks that have occurred within the last one to two years. Patients can expect a slightly bruised appearance to the treated areas that resolves within 1 to 2 weeks and may return to normal activity immediately. Usually 3 to 5 treatments are needed spaced 2 months apart for maximum improvement.
Fractional CO2 laser
The second treatment option is the Fractional CO2 laser that is more aggressive and appropriate for white stretch marks that have been present for more than a year. This laser is most commonly utilized for skin resurfacing of the face but recently has been shown to cause great improvement in stretch marks. Fractional CO2 laser makes small micropunctures in the skin in a grid like pattern leaving bridges of healthy skin in between. The procedure stimulates collagen production and tightens the skin. This in turn causes the stretch marks to contract and become smaller. Optimal results are usually seen after 2 to 3 treatments spaced 3 to 6 months apart. The procedure takes approximately one hour depending on the area being treated.
What to Expect
Each patient receives a topical lidocaine dressing to numb the skin for one hour before the procedure. Oral pain medications are also prescribed for optimal comfort. Most body areas being treated stay red for several weeks after surgery and are sun sensitive. Sun protection of these areas is essential to decrease the chance of complications. The most common side effects are discomfort for one week after the procedure and prolonged redness. Dr. Neil Zemmel, MD, FACS will guide you through your recovery period to ensure an excellent and safe result.