From prevention, to in-office treatment and options for women pregnant or nursing.
Photo courtesy of Clarins
Whether you choose to display your ‘tiger stripes’ with pride or work to minimize their appearance, once stretch marks appear, they’re lasting. Admittedly, stretch marks were never really on my radar – until I had a baby. It’s no surprise that pregnancy can leave a mark (or four, or five…), after your body morphs and your skin extends in unbelievable proportions.
Navigating the emotional and physical waters post-partum can be tricky enough, let alone worrying about how to treat your newly acquired scars. There are so many questions to be answered. Luckily, I spoke with New York City dermatologist and author, Dr. Whitney Bowe who gave me the skinny on all things stretch marks.
What is a Stretch Mark?
Dr. Bowe attributes stretch marks to times when skin stretches or shrinks at a very rapid rate (think growth spurts or pregnancy weight gain then loss) and explains that this change causes the collagen and elastin supporting skin to rupture. “As your skin heals, you may develop a type of scar called a stretch mark. They are commonly seen on the breasts, thighs, stomach, hips, and bottom. Not everyone will develop stretch marks. Hormone changes and family history play a role in whether you will develop these types of scars,” says Dr. Bowe.
Stretch marks often start out red, purple or even brown. “Once they appear, they are permanent, but there are many ways to help reduce their appearance,” she adds.
Thankfully, Dr. Bowe assured me that stretch marks naturally become less visible and fade on their own over time. “Treating them early, while they are still red or pink (and before they turn white) will yield the best aesthetic results,” she advises.
Topical Treatment & Prevention
Dr. Bowe recommends using a Vitamin A or Retin-A product at home to address stretch marks. “These ingredients are most effective before you are in the late, white phase of stretch marks. However, if you are nursing (or pregnant), I generally advise against using most of these types of products due to potential side effects,” she states.
In terms of preventing stretch marks, Dr. Bowe recommends products which help to hydrate and firm the skin. “Products containing coconut oil, Vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid are my go-to recommendations to promote healthy, smooth, plump skin. Of course, healthy habits during pregnancy will also go a long way with the amount of stretch your skin has to sustain,’” she notes.
“One product that is specifically touted as safe during pregnancy and nursing is Bio-Oil which contains Vitamins A and E, in addition to other essential oils,” advises Dr. Bowe. (more on this product coming in part 2)
In-office options to treat stretch marks with lasers
Not to be Performed while Pregnant. Consult your Physician if Nursing.
An ideal form of treatment if the scar is in an early phase (still red or pink), Vbeam is a pulsed dye laser that can not only dial down the red, but also help with collagen remodeling. The treatment lasts under 10 minutes but can leave bruising, and note that sun exposure before and after Vbeam treatment should be avoided, so opt for a fall or winter series of appointments.
Also called “collagen induction therapy,” microneedling is a procedure based on the use of tiny needles which create very small, controlled wounds to the skin. “Your body reacts by naturally healing your skin and, in the process, building new collagen and elastin in the dermis. More collagen = younger, firmer skin. It is ideal for smoothing the surface of the skin minimizing stretch marks, acne scars and pores, photo-aging, crepe-y texture, dull skin, poor texture, and body scars,” explains Dr. Bowe. An added advantage of microneedling is that it allows for serums, topical gels and creams to penetrate or infuse more deeply into skin, allowing for better product efficacy.
Fractional Laser Resurfacing Treatments, or Fraxel for short, works by creating tiny micro-wounds in the skin (much like a tic-tac toe board) which promotes a well-controlled healing response, promoting healthy collagen production. “Specifically, pinpoint laser beams penetrate the skin but leave unaffected skin in-between the treated areas. The unaffected, normal skin helps speed up the healing process substantially. As a result, bright new cells rapidly replace the skin’s dull, dead cells,” explains Dr. Bowe. A series of three treatments spaced at least four weeks apart is recommended.
The use of platelet-rich plasma or PRP, either by injecting the body’s own plasma into the area of concern or using this serum during a microneedling procedure is another effective treatment option for stretch marks. “PRP promotes cell growth, collagen production and tissue repair, all of which will help to improve skin color, texture, and tightness,” says Dr. Bowe.
Next week, in part 2, we give you our best stretch mark product picks that you can use at home.
Special thanks to NYC Dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe for all her suggestions and recommendations. Visit her website drwhitneybowe.com and get her book to learn more about your skin and how to get that “Bowe Glow”.