By Dr Davin Lim
Best Ingredients: Retinol & retinoids. Tocopherol, Silicone Gel
Adjunctive Treatments: Fractional lasers, vascular lasers, Tixel
Worse Ingredients: Anything branded natural, lemon juice
Tips: Very hard to totally remove, much easier to partially fade. Treat early with vascular lasers
What causes stretch marks?
Stretch marks are seen in just about everyone. These marks are a form of dermal scarring and can present with different color and texture than your normal skin, & they range from purple to bright pink to silvery white. They occur when the dermal layer of the skin is suddenly stretched, as in the case of pregnancy or rapid weight gain. Fluctuations in weight results in the skin overstretching and the fibers breaking which ultimately causes stretch marks. When the dermis tears, the blood vessels under the skin show, making the stretch marks appear red or purple. Over time the blood vessels get smaller and the marks turn silvery-white in colour.
The most common causes of stretch marks include:
2. Puberty & growth spurts
3. Sudden weight gain
4. Steroids tablets, creams & ointments
6. Health conditions such as Marfan’s, EDS, & Cushing’s Disease
7. Body Building & muscle development
Which stretch mark creams work?
The only creams that do anything are vitamin A creams known as retinoids. These creams can increase collagen production in the deeper dermal layers of skin, and thus can marginally improve stretch marks. A more affordable method for reducing the appearance of white stretch marks are topical creams and ointments.
Silicone based creams and gels can also be useful in managing stretch marks. Unlike retinol based solutions, irritation is uncommon with silicone. The most commonly used brand is Stratamark.
What lasers do I use to treat stretch marks?
Early stretch marks (pink, red, or purple in colour), work best with lasers. A combination of vascular laser, retinol & vitamin E can improve the colour & reduce the width of stretch marks. Expect 40-60% improvement after a series of 3-5 laser sessions. Occasionally I combine fractional lasers, microneedling or Tixel with vascular lasers.
Older stretch marks known as striae alba are much harder to treat. These stretch marks are papery, white & atrophic. The overlying skin has wrinkles, crinkles & looks thin. The aim of treating these stretch marks is to thicken collagen in the dermal layer. Treatments including fractional laser with Fraxel or CO2 can be effective, as well as Tixel. Again I combine retinol or retinoids with these treatments. Expect a 20-50% improvement after a series of sessions.
Can stretch marks go away without treatment?
Sometimes when the cause of the stretching is no longer a factor, stretch marks will disappear, but in most cases, over time, they fade to a less noticeable scar. The colour changes, namely red/purple to pink then white to silver can take up to 18 months. The appearance may be lessened by using self-tanners or makeup.
What does Bio Oil do for stretch marks?
This formulation has little in the way of side effects. It probably does not give a better outcome than say, olive oil, however it is cheap & has a high patient satisfaction rate. An oil of any sort can relieve the symptoms of itch, as frequently encountered with new stretch marks.
What DIY treatments are there for stretch marks?
A well formulated retinol combined with sensible microneedling can marginally improve older stretch marks (white or silver coloured). Microneedle depth should not exceed 0.25 to 0.3 mm and should be spaced 2-6 weeks apart. The topical retinol should NOT be applied to open wounds, rather within 12-36 hours post microneedling. Early stretch marks are generally easier to treat with the aim of reducing both colour & width with vascular lasers. Argan & olive oil are another well known home remedy for stretch marks as they contain high levels of antioxidants!
Davin’s Pro Tip on Stretch Marks Creams
Treat stretch marks early & have a treatment plan going into pregnancy. The earlier the treatment, the better the outcome! Vascular lasers give the best results, followed by fractional lasers. Most patients will require 2-4 sessions over 4- 8 weeks. Retinol or retinoid creams are adjunctive.