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What are stretch marks?

Stretch marks are small, depressed streaks in the skin that appear most often on the abdomen in the later stages of pregnancy when the belly is rapidly expanding to accommodate a growing baby. Some women also get them on their buttocks, thighs, hips, and breasts.

Stretch marks are caused by changes in the elastic supportive tissue that lies just beneath the skin. They start out pink, reddish brown, purple, or dark brown, depending on your skin color. They later fade, although they never totally disappear.

Stretch marks occur when the elastic middle layer of skin called the dermis is stretched. Stretching leads to a breakdown of connective tissue, inflammation, and then scar formation as the injury heals. It's the scarring that causes stretch marks to appear.

Stretch marks are common during puberty and rapid growth spurts in adolescence, excessive weight gain and obesity, pregnancy, when muscle mass increases rapidly and stretches the skin (like during bodybuilding), and sometimes when individuals use steroids for many months. Stretch marks are not a health risk but can be cosmetically unappealing.

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How do they look like?

Stretch marks often start off as reddish or purplish in color and then become glossy skin that appears streaked in silver or white.

Men and women can get stretch marks on several areas of their bodies, including the abdominal area, thighs, hips, breasts, upper arms or lower back.

How can I tell if I'll get stretch marks?

It's hard to predict. At least half of pregnant women get stretch marks, but no one can tell with certainty who's going to get them and who won't. However, there are some factors that increase your chances of getting stretch marks.

Research suggests that genetics plays a role: If your mother or sister got stretch marks during pregnancy, you're more likely to get them, too. Also, some studies show that younger moms, particularly teens, are more prone to getting stretch marks.

In addition, the more your skin has to expand during pregnancy and the more quickly it happens, the more likely you are to develop stretch marks. For this reason, you're more likely to get stretch marks if:

• You gain a lot of weight rapidly.
• You're carrying multiples.
• You're carrying a big baby.
• You have excess amniotic fluid.
• What can I do to prevent stretch marks?

Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do. Gaining no more than the recommended amount of weight — in most cases, 25 to 35 pounds — and gaining it slowly may reduce your chances of getting stretch marks.

There's no proof that any of the creams, salves, and oils that claim to prevent stretch marks actually work. (Keeping your belly well moisturized as it grows may reduce itching, though.)

Do stretch marks ever go away?

The good news is that stretch marks usually become considerably less noticeable about six to 12 months after childbirth. The pigmentation fades and they generally become lighter than the surrounding skin (the color will vary depending on your skin color), but their texture will remain the same.

TREATMENT

First, you should keep in mind that your stretch marks will gradually become much less noticeable in the months after you give birth. But if they continue to bother you, consider making an appointment with a dermatologist to discuss treatment. Most approaches have proven to be only modestly effective, but there are some things she may be able to do to improve their appearance.
If you're not breastfeeding, your Aesthetic doctor may prescribe tretinoin cream (commonly known by the trade name Retin-A), alone or in combination with other creams. A few studies have shown that applying 0.1 percent tretinoin cream may help with stretch marks. In one study, the treatment reduced the length of the stretch marks by 14 percent and the width by 8 percent. In another study, it decreased the length by 20 percent.

However, there's no good information about how the medication is absorbed, whether it gets excreted in breast milk, and what effect it might have on your baby, so it should be avoided while nursing.

Over-the-counter products

Vitamin E creams, topical creams, ointments, gels and moisturizers are not particularly effective. They may improve the stretch mark appearance by about 10% after 6 months of applying the product 2-3 times a day for 6 months.

Most people give up after using the products for 1 to 2 weeks as it is too much of a hassle and results are extremely slow and improvements are minimal.

Laser therapy is another option if you're looking to improve the appearance of stretch marks after delivery. According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, a surgeon can use different types of lasers depending on the color of the stretch marks. One type reduces the color of dark stretch marks while another stimulates the production of pigment-making cells in already faded stretch marks. A newer type of laser therapy can be used to stimulate the production of collagen and help restore the skin's elasticity in depressed stretch marks.

Fractional CO2 laser (superior treatment for stretch marks)

We have fractional CO2 laser machine in the market today for stretch mark removal and laser resurfacing. It also helps to improve skin texture, tighten the skin and reduces sagging. You would need 4 sessions to improve the stretch mark by at least 60-80%.

It cost RM1500 per session for Fractional CO2 laser per area. Stomach/ both lower limbs/ both upper limbs/ buttocks are considered 1 area each. You will need 6 sessions to improve the stretch marks by at least 60-80%.

Before the procedure, we apply numbing cream to the area to be laser ed so that any discomfort is minimized. There is a warm sensation similar to a sunburn during the laser. The sensation will go off in a few hours. Each laser session takes about 15-20 minutes for each area.

Fractional CO2 laser is a simple and safe procedure. The skin would be slightly red with fine dots for 2 months. It takes a longer time to recover on stomach/ back/ legs/ thighs/ buttocks compared to 1 week recovery for face lasers.

This is because the blood supply to the face is better than other parts of the body.

You need to wait at least 2 month in between laser sessions so that the skin can heal. The results are permanent. It is safe for all skin types.