Stretch marks (straie) are lines of discoloration that develop on areas of the skin that have been subjected to stretching. The lines are typically pink, red or purple, and are sometimes indented. Robert Weiss, M.D., Dermatologic Surgeon with the Maryland Laser, Skin, and Vein Institute in Hunt Valley, MD, says the lines are caused when the collagen fibers in the skin are weakened, becoming elongated and damaged.
Stretch marks are most common in women. In fact, researchers estimate up to 90 percent of women have some stretch marks. The marks are typically seen on the abdomen, breasts, upper arms, thighs and buttocks. They are often associated with pregnancy, but can occur during any period of rapid weight gain or growth. Stretch marks may also develop during steroid use or in people with certain medical conditions, like Cushing’s disease. Family history of stretch marks also increases risk for their development.
Dealing with Stretch Marks
Stretch marks are harmless and most will fade with time. However, they don’t completely disappear and some people are concerned about how the lines look, especially in areas of skin that are visible to others. Sometimes microdermabrasion can be used to sand away the top layer of skin over the stretch mark and diminish the appearance of the lines. There is some evidence tretinoin cream (retin-A) may rebuild collagen for new (less than 6 weeks old) stretch marks.
Weiss says one of the newest techniques to diminish signs of stretch marks is fractional non-ablative skin resurfacing, using the Lux1540™ laser handpiece with the StarLux® System (Palomar Medical Technologies, Inc.). The device delivers tiny pinpoints of laser light to create intentional columns of damage to cells in the epidermis and dermis. The treatment stimulates the growth of new, healthy collagen, which improves the texture of the skin and reduces visibility of the stretch marks.
An observation study by the manufacturer found roughly 50 percent improvements in nearly all stretch marks and a 75 percent improvement in up to 24 percent. Weiss says the treatment works best for younger people with newer stretch marks. However, even older stretch marks will diminish with the treatment.
Most patients need about three treatments to reach optimal results. The collagen continues to undergo rebuilding for several months, so it can take some time to see the final results. Unless a patient gains more weight, the effects should last for several years. Weiss recommends women wait until they have completed childbearing to have the treatment because weight gain during pregnancy can cause the appearance of new stretch marks. The FDA approved the LUX1540 device for stretch marks in February 2010.
Elsaie, M., et al., “Striae Distensae (Stretch Marks) and Different Modalities of Therapy,” Dermatologic Surgery, April 2009, Vol. 35, No. 4, pp. 563-573.
Goldman, A., et al., “Stretch Marks,” Dermatologic Surgery, May 2008, Vol. 34, No. 5, pp. 686-691.
Tay, Y., et al., “Non-ablative 1450-nm Diode Laser Treatment of Striae Distensae,” Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, March 2006, Vol. 38, No. 3, pp. 196-199.
Trelles, M., et al., “Effects Achieved on Stretch Marks by a Nonfractional Infrared Light System Treatment,” Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, May 2008, Vol. 32, No. 3, pp. 523-530.
Tunzi, Marc, M.D., and Gary Gray, D.O., “Common Skin Conditions During Pregnancy,” American Family Physician, January 15, 2007, Vol. 75, No. 2, pp. 211-218.