Women are often bothered by narrow streaks that develop on the skin of their thighs, buttocks and abdomen. They may also be seen in the upper arms or the breasts. These lines, which doctors call striae, are more commonly known as stretch marks. And as their name implies, stretch marks often occur as a result of stretching of the middle layer of the skin (or dermis), which breaks the elastic fibers and allows the deep layers to show. Stretch marks often follow rapid changes in weight, pregnancy and during puberty, when growth spurts occur.
As rapid changes in body weight occur during pregnancy, puberty or weight gain, purple or reddish lines appear. Depending on your skin color, they may also be pink, dark brown or reddish brown. The skin may also feel itchy, wrinkly or raised. As time passes the lines become silvery or whitish, but after a long time, they may begin to fade.
Many women are impatient about waiting for their stretch marks to fade, especially when they are numerous and unsightly. Temporarily concealing these marks with make-up, such as foundation or concealers work for some women. Tanning may make the surrounding skin darker and the stretch marks more visible.
The most common home treatment for stretch marks is using skin moisturizers, gels, creams and lotions to promote fading of the lines. Some of these contain hyaluronic acid extracts and tretinoin skin to promote collagen build-up, which makes skin healthier and plumper. Experts recommend applying these topical treatments when the stretch marks are still red or purple for best results and to expect fading of lines to occur with time.
Another option for treatment is laser therapy, which uses light with intense wavelengths to stimulate collagen and elastin growth. This painless technique results in reduction of the size and depth of the stretch marks as well as improvement of skin elasticity. One type of treatment is called pulsed dye laser treatment, which emits energy that is absorbed by the blood vessels in the skin, causing them to collapse and disappear. Other treatments combine laser treatment with a device that emits radiofrequency waves, resulting in skin improvement in most patients tested.
For women with older stretch marks, microdermabrasion might be a better choice, which polishes the skin with a hand-held device. It gently removes the topmost layer of the skin and promotes growth of new skin that is more elastic.
Most of these treatments are only partially effective, depending on your expectations and age of the stretch marks. Consult with your doctor to choose the best option for your condition.
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