While it’s true that nobody wants stretch marks—those grooved, tire-tread lines on our skin—lots of people get them. One of the common reasons that women come to our NW Indiana plastic surgery practice for a tummy tuck is to remove stretch marks! Statistics tell us that nearly 90% of pregnant women get some stretch marks and 30% of men get them. What causes them and what can be done about them?
What Causes Stretch Marks?
Our skin stretches when we move and as we gain or lose weight or muscle. Most of the time, that “stretchability” can accommodate reasonable changes in our bodies. However, it differs between individuals. That’s the reason that your friend may have no stretch marks after giving birth to a 9 lb. baby but you have stretch marks after delivering a 7 lb. baby. Everyone is different. Most of this is based on genetics, by the way, though some is based on age and lifestyle habits—smokers have less pliant skin, for example. As we age, our skin becomes less resilient. You can test this by pulling on the skin on the back of your hand. Until you reach your 40s, your skin bounces right back but, as you age, it slows down as the body has less collagen and elastin, which are the building blocks of youthful skin.
Essentially, a stretch mark is like a scar on the inside of your skin. When the skin is stretched over a period of time the skin’s support structure will rupture. The marks you see on the surface of your skin are actually elastin bands that have broken under the skin.
What Helps Stretch Marks?
While there are no skincare products that can prevent or improve your stretch marks, there are treatments that can help. Here are some of them:
Retin-A for Stretch Marks
Tretinoin, the active ingredient in Retin-A, can improve the appearance of stretch marks in most people. You cannot use Retin-A, Renova or other Tretinoin products while pregnant or nursing. Tretinoin will deliver between a 10-20% improvement in the stretch marks over time.
IPL Therapy for Stretch Marks
Intense Pulsed Light treatments improve the appearance of stretch marks, particularly the color of them. A series is needed, and results are not always satisfactory.
Chemical Peels for Stretch Marks
A TCA (trichloroacetic acid) peel will stimulate elastin and collagen production beneath the skin to help fade stretch marks.
Tummy Tucks for Abdominal Stretch Marks
The only way to guarantee removal of stretch marks is to surgically remove the skin on which they appear. During a tummy tuck, after the abdominal muscles are tightened, the skin on the abdomen is pulled down (similar to pulling down a window shade) and the excess skin is removed. If your stretch marks are in the skin that is removed, they are permanently banished. However, stretch marks on skin that remains will still be visible.
If you have concerns about stretch marks, contact one of our two NW Indiana plastic surgery offices by calling 800-721-3244 or completing this online consultation request form.