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Stretchmarks

Unsightly stretchmarks (medically termed Striae Distensae) are a very common problem for many women and men. Stretchmarks are generally considered unsightly, disfiguring and unacceptable by many people.

What do stretchmarks look like?

Recent or immature stretchmarks are flattened areas of skin which appear pink or red in colour (Striae Rubra) and may be itchy and slightly raised.
As stretchmarks mature they tend to increase in length and develop a dark purple colour. Over time stretchmarks eventually attain a white colour (Striae Alba) and become depressed.
Under a microscope stretchmarks resemble the appearance of scars.

What causes stretchmarks?

While the exact cause of stretchmarks is unknown, a combination of hormonal factors associated with lateral stretch due to increased size of body areas is thought to be important. Stretchmarks occur as the result of a breakdown in the structures that provide the skin with its strength and elasticity.

Who gets stretchmarks?

Stretchmarks are two and a half times more frequent in women than men and affect a high percentage of pregnant women. Stretchmarks are also commonly seen in body builders and any others who have experienced rapid weight gain. Obesity and rapid increases or decreases in bodyweight have been shown to be associated with the development of stretchmarks.
In some individuals normal growth itself may be a cause with stretchmarks commonly developing during adolescence and associated with a rapid increase in the size of particular body regions.
In certain people stretchmarks can be linked to higher levels of steroid hormones as a result of such things as treatment with steroid medications or illnesses such as Cushings Disease.

Where do stretchmarks occur?

The commonest sites for the development of stretchmarks are the thighs, upper arms, buttocks and breasts in women and outer aspects of the thighs and lower back in men. With pregnancy abdominal stretchmarks are very common especially with large babies or twins.

Which stretchmarks respond best to laser?

Results may vary from patient to patient and may not be immediate. Importantly some patients do not get any significant improvement. Results from the laser treatment are generally progressive and typically require multiple treatments. About 70% of patients receiving laser treatments for their stretchmarks notice an improvement. Newer and shallower stretchmarks respond better than older deeper stretchmarks. The best results tend to be found with red stretchmarks (Striae Rubra) in lighter skinned individuals. Smokers do not tend to respond as well to stretchmark treatments as non-smokers.

What type of laser is used?

At the Cosmetic & Laser Medical Centre we have a range of lasers that can treat stretchmarks. The optimal laser will vary with the type of stretchmarks, position and age of the stretchmarks as well as an individual’s skin type.

Vascular lasers such as the EXCEL V or the Pulse Dye V BEAM laser can be used to target red stretchmarks. In darker skin types (types 4 and 5) vascular lasers are usually avoided as they can result in pigmentation changes. In dark skinned individuals with immature red stretchmarks the REVLITE laser is usually the preferred laser. The REVLITE produces a very short pulse of laser light that can stimulate collagen. REVLITE lasers can also achieve good results with white stretchmarks but improvement tends to be slower than with FRAXEL treatment.

Fractional lasers such as the FRAXEL, which are the treatment of choice for acne scarring, have been found to be very effective in improving both immature (red) and mature (white) stretchmarks with a good safety profile including in patients with pigmented skin. Topical anaesthetic is usually required before FRAXEL laser treatment of stretchmarks as the treatment can be painful.
Newer picosecond lasers such as the PICOSURE laser are also showing promise in the treatment of stretchmarks.

The INFINI, which uses Radiofrequency heat rather than laser light, may well become the treatment of choice for more severe stretchmarks as the use of microneedles allows treatment down to deeper layers of the skin. Certainly in darker skin types and tanned skin the INFINI is the best option in the treatment of stretchmarks.

How many laser treatments are needed?

This will vary depending on the type of laser used, the level of improvement required, type of stretchmark and the response of an individual’s skin. With the FRAXEL laser typically 4-6 treatments are needed spaced about 4-6 weeks apart. With the REVLITE laser typically 6-12 treatments are needed spaced about 2-4 weeks apart.

What are the costs?

Treatment costs for stretchmark treatment will vary depending on the type of treatment used, the extent of the stretchmarks and the level of improvement required. The government provides no Medicare rebate for stretchmarks and in addition will charge 10% GST. For a REVLITE laser treatment expect to pay $150-$300 per treatment depending on how many areas are being treated. For a FRAXEL laser treatment expect to pay $400-$600 per treatment. Skin Needling will usually cost about $300 per treatment. The INFINI will cost about $600 per treatment. Packages are available for stretchmark treatments as a series of treatments is needed for the best results.

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