For so many women, stretch marks are an unavoidable and unpleasant side effect of pregnancy. They can also affect bodybuilders, as well as anyone else who has gained or lost a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. Some people are even unlucky enough to acquire them during the growth spurts of puberty. Although maintaining a stable weight and taking good care of one’s skin are certainly steps in the right direction, the unfortunate truth is that heredity and hormonal changes play a considerable role in the formation of stretch marks.
There are many oils, creams, and lotions that are purported to improve or even prevent stretch marks. While Retin-A has been shown to be marginally effective at reducing the apparent depth of stretch marks, and there are those who swear by treatments with other lotions and potions, most medical experts agree that the claims are mostly hype.
With the advent of the use of lasers for cosmetic purposes, though, hope for the treatment of this cosmetic problem seems to have been renewed.
So, can lasers really erase stretch marks?
The answer, I’m sorry to say, is no. Since stretch marks represent a permanent change in the dermis (the deeper layer of skin beneath the surface layer known as the epidermis), there is no amount of resurfacing that can erase them. However, studies have shown that laser treatments can lessen the depth of stretch marks in some patients, with an improvement rate of between 20 and 50%. The improvement is believed to be largely due to the laser’s stimulation of increased production of collagen and elastin in the dermal (deeper) layer of the skin, where stretch marks are formed.
Lasers are most effective on immature stretch marks (those that are still red in color), and many doctors say that they are nearly useless on more mature (white) stretch marks. Furthermore, for darker skin types, laser treatment of stretch marks is generally considered unadvisable, largely due to the risks of causing hyperpigmentation changes in the skin.
Eric Berger, MD, a laser surgeon who performs many different types of cosmetic laser procedures at his medical aesthetic laser center in New York City, does not offer laser services solely for the treatment of stretch marks. The reason for this, he says, is that the results of laser treatments for stretch marks are so insignificant that they are not worth the patient’s time and the expense of the multiple treatments required to achieve any noticeable improvement. However, he does note that some slight improvement in the appearance of stretch marks on the abdomen has been achieved as a pleasant side benefit of the Titan skin tightening procedure.
In short, there is no “cure” for stretch marks. Worse yet, prevention of stretch marks is not entirely in your power, especially during times of great hormonal fluctuations, such as pregnancy and puberty. If your mother has stretch marks, there’s a good chance that you will have them, too. Only you can decide whether a 20 to 50% improvement in their appearance is worth making several trips to the plastic surgeon’s office (not to mention shelling out a few thousand dollars).
Comparison of the 585 nm Pulse Dye Laser and the Short Pulsed CO2 Laser in the Treatment of Striae Distensae in Skin Types IV and VI; Keyvan Nouri MD, Ricardo Romagosa MD, Tim Chartier MD, Leyda Bowes MD, James M. Spencer MD, MS; Dermatologic Surgery, Volume 25 Issue 5 Page 368-370, May 1999
Interview with Eric Berger, MD, conducted on June 16, 2008
Treatment Of Stretch Marks With The 585-Nm Flashlamp-Pumped Pulsed Dye Laser; McDaniel, DH, Ash, K and Zukowski, M (1996)