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Laser Surgery Treatment For Stretch Marks

Updated on September 8, 2009

Laser surgery for the removal of stretch marks is a popular option for those who wish to do something about this common skin condition. This article takes a look at how laser treatment can help with getting rid of stretch marks, and some things to be aware of if you're considering it.

What Are Stretch Marks?

What exactly are stretch marks anyway? Basically, they are caused by scarring of the dermis of the skin. They can occur anywhere on the body, although they're more likely to form in parts of the body where greater amounts of fat are stored. They can also develop at any age, although some people are more likely to get stretch marks than others, such as weight lifters who gain muscle rapidly, pregnant women, and others undergoing rapid growth, such as adolescents or people who gain a lot of weight quickly. Stretch marks formed in adolescence will often fade naturally, but those marks which form later in life may fade much more slowly or not at all. Stretch marks are also known as stria (singular) or striae (plural).

What Causes Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks are typically formed when the skin is stretched by a large amount within a relatively short space of time, as a result of an increase in the volume of the body. In such cases, the dermis, which is the middle layer of the skin, becomes over-stretched, and its elasticity suffers. Inflammation and bleeding can occur, creating reddish coloured marks – stretch marks in their early stages, which are visible through the epidermis (outer layer of the skin). The bleeding stops and the marks heal, but this leads to the formation of scar tissue, which takes on a whitish appearance over time – the typical look of older stretch marks.  The likelihood of stretch marks forming depends on the elasticity of the skin, which is itself influenced by various factors, including hormones and genetics. Stretch marks aren't harmful in themselves (though they can be associated with potentially harmful conditions, such as obesity), but many people seek to treat them anyway, for cosmetic purposes.

Stretch Mark Treatments

So, how to remove stretch marks? There is a variety of options available, although their effectiveness varies. Stretch mark creams are very popular, and may contain various ingredients (such as Retin-A) which are believed to support the elasticity of the skin or reduce the appearance of the marks. Other options include laser treatment, dermabrasion, chemical peels and, in some cases, abdominoplasty or tummy tuck surgery. Although different stretch mark treatments may work for different people, it's important to realise that it's not really possible to get rid of stretch marks fast – all treatments take time to work.

Laser Treatment For Stretch Marks

Stretch mark laser surgery is one possible way of treating them, although it is not the best choice for all types of stretch marks, and is also somewhat controversial, with some skin professionals citing studies that show that it can help, and others disputing their claims, and maintaining that the effectiveness of stretch mark treatment by laser is very limited. It's important to note that laser treatment generally won't eliminate stretch marks completely; rather, it can help to reduce their appearance, making them less noticeable. Laser stretch mark removal involves targeting the affected area with a pulsed light beam, which is thought to help to stimulate the production of new collagen and elastin in the dermis. The scar tissue may also be removed, and new, healthy tissue formed in its place. Generally treatment takes place over several sessions, and each session may last from around 10 minutes to an hour. It is relatively expensive, and can be painful or uncomfortable.

What To Expect From Stretch Mark Laser Surgery

As noted above, you shouldn't expect laser treatment to cure stretch marks completely. Various studies have been carried out to investigate its effectiveness, and a typical rate of improvement of 20% - 50% has been noted, although it may be greater or lesser in some individuals. Laser treatment works best on immature red stretch marks which have not yet taken on the characteristic silver-white appearance. Although techniques have improved and become more effective in recent years, a lot still depends on the skill and knowledge of the person administering the treatment. Laser treatment doesn't normally cause serious side effects (there may be some swelling and tenderness), although it's not the best option for dark-skinned people, as the laser itself can cause increased pigmentation in the treated area. Although laser surgery can help in many cases, before embarking on a course of laser treatment to fade stretch marks, you must be aware that it is unlikely to remove them completely, and is not guaranteed to make any improvement at all, so in a worse case scenario you could potentially spend a lot of money and endure much discomfort over several sessions of treatment for little in the way of results.

Where To Get Laser Surgery For Stretch Marks

If you decide to go ahead with this treatment option, it's vital to seek the advice of a qualified physician who is experienced in using lasers to treat stretch marks. You should also ask to view before and after photos of their previous work, so you have some proof that their technique is effective (though remember that even if it has worked for someone else, there is no guarantee that it'll work for you too). It's also a good idea to consult with more than one person, and to compare rates, as well as seeking advice about other stretch mark removal treatments that might even be more effective in your particular case.

Preventing Stretch Marks From Recurring After Treatment

If you opt for laser treatment for your stretch marks, or any other form of help, the chances are you're going to be spending money and putting some effort into their removal. To avoid wasting your time and money, it's important to take any necessary steps to prevent stretch marks from forming again. Although not all factors will be under your control, you can help yourself by maintaining a stable weight, eating a healthy diet to support your skin health, and keeping the skin well moisturized. If you're into weight lifting, avoid gaining muscle too quickly.

However, while you may want to do what you can to remove and prevent stretch marks, it's best to try not to feel too self-conscious about them; they're extremely common after all, and the chances are that others are too busy worrying about their own perceived 'flaws' to pay too much attention to yours!

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