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Swimsuit season makes it abundantly clear that an abundance of people have stretch marks. Caused by rapid growth or weight gain — think puberty or pregnancy — stretch marks are a form of scarring caused by tearing of dermis. Also called striae, they’re most prevalent on the belly but do also occur on the breasts, buttocks, hips, thighs and lower back area. I’d heard that keeping the skin super moisturized could prevent or help fade them, but I wanted to separate the fact from fiction and share advice from a top dermatologist of what can and can’t be done when it comes to this issue. New York-based, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Kally Papantoniou was happy to do just that.
BITB: Why do some people get stretch marks and others don’t?
Dr. Papantoniou: Stretch marks or “striae dispense” occur from tension on the skin caused by stretching of dermal layers. This causes a separation or tearing of the collagen and connective tissues under the surface of your skin, weak areas that can look like pink depressed or raised shiny lines that over time fade to a lighter shade of your normal skin tone. Whether you will get stretch marks is really dependent on the type of skin that you have, and a few other factors. Many times there will be a family history of stretch marks. I have also noticed in practice that those who are very thin post pregnancy tend to be at higher risk of getting stretch marks, and also those who put on more than the recommended weight for a healthy pregnancy. The women who don’t get stretch marks are the lucky ones, who have skin that is more resilient.
BITB: Is there any way to prevent stretch marks?
Dr. Papantoniou: The best tips are to avoid rapid weight gain. Do not diet during pregnancy, but make healthy choices and keep active. Moisturize your skin well during pregnancy, this may not make a huge difference but it can’t hurt and may improve the health of your skin. Many people use a Shea butter or cocoa butter cream or lotion, but any good hydrating cream will do.
BITB: Once you have them, what can be done at home to diminish stretch marks? Please be specific about ingredients/types of products. Are there any prescription products that are more effective?
Dr. Papantoniou: Firstly, let’s be real, stretch marks are probably the biggest challenge to treat with just topical therapies. That being said you want to look for products that are hydrating: coconut oil, Argan oil, sesame seed oil, hyaluronic acid, Shea butter (this will help minimize the appearance ), retinol (will rebuild collagen), peptides (may help tighten and build collagen), copper/zinc/vitamin c (all help collagen). Common brands are Bio Oil and Strivectin, and Skinceuticals has a skin tightening cream that also works well.
Prescription retinoids are more potent than retinols, but can be more irritating so they must be used as directed, since putting more on will not make it work any faster, and may just irritate the skin.
You can also purchase a dermaroller, which essentially is a roller with tiny needles about 1-1.5mm that when rolled over areas of stretch marks every 2 weeks can help over the course of several months to fade their appearance.
BITB: What can be done in-office to diminish stretch marks? Please be specific about different types of treatments and who they’d be right for.
Dr. Papantonieu: Stretch marks respond very well to 2 types of treatment: fractional laser resurfacing and micro-needling. The fractional laser treatment works with light energy to create micro-injuries to the skin. This stimulates new skin growth and collagen. The micro-needling is a mechanized device with needles that can be adjusted for depth and work to also create micro perforations at the depth of skin necessary to trigger skin renewal and collagen development. We often combine Microneedling with PRP (platelets rich plasma) which stimulates even better healing and more results by stimulating cellular repair.
For newer stretch marks that are pink there are lasers that target blood vessels and work very well to fade out the red appearance of new stretch marks. These are pulse dye lasers.
BITB: Please feel free to add anything else that you feel is important on this subject.
Dr. Papantoneiu: It is important to be persistent with both topical and in-office procedures because it takes time for your skin to remodel, and for the stretch marks to improve. A healthy diet and healthy lifestyle will also help skin heal better. Maintain a steady weight as much as possible, and avoid fluctuations (loss or gain) since they can make more stretch marks appear.