Stretch marks - Elevate Magazine - November/December 2009
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Stretch marks - Elevate Magazine - November/December 2009

Stretch It Out

By Kristen Vinakmens

Fade Away Stubborn Stretch Marks With the Latest Treatment Options 

You’ve had your first baby, and while you’ve managed to lose the baby weight, you haven’t been able to shake the telltale aftermath: stretch marks. You might think you’re destined to never wear a tummy-baring bikini again. Not true. While you may not be able to completely banish stretch marks, the latest treatment options—from lasers to creams, peels and microdermabrasion —can help fade them away.

Stretch marks are caused when the skin is pulled to the limit, whether due to pregnancy, weight gain or a rapid growth spurt. “The skin literally stretches too quickly and the tissue breaks down,” says Dr. Sachit Shah, a cosmetic physician with the BC Laser and Skin Clinic in Surrey, B.C. Some people are more prone to suffering from these skin mementoes than others. “Some women never get stretch marks, post-baby,” says Dr. Greg Pugen, medical director at the Bellair Laser Clinic in Toronto. “For others, it’s related to heredity.”

Stretch marks most commonly surface as red, purple or silvery-white scars, and each kind is treated differently. Red marks, the sign of early-stage scarring, are usually treated with a vascular laser that removes the redness, says Shah. This form of treatment requires three to four sessions, at a cost of $200 to $400 each. Shah says pigmented scars are easier to treat, and “the sooner you get to them, the quicker they heal.”

Silver scars, which are late-stage stretch marks, are more stubborn. They require several treatments with a fractionated resurfacing laser known as the Fraxel. The Fraxel hits the damaged tissue in a grid-like pattern, causing little injuries in the skin that encourage healing. Expect to pay $1,200 to $1,500 per treatment, and for best results, you’ll need four to six sessions. Shah says you can expect 60 to 70 percent improvement in the appearance of abnormal texture. Post-treatment, some swelling and redness is normal, but there is no downtime. Shah cautions against any sun exposure during treatment, as tanned skin treated with a laser may become permanently discoloured or heal unevenly. As well, people with naturally darker skin may need to use a skin-bleaching cream containing ingredients such as hydroquinone before treatment in order to prevent permanent darkening of the skin.

If you’re looking for something a little less costly, treatments such as microdermabrasion and chemical peels can offer a short-term fix. “If you have [an important event, such as a] reunion coming up and you want your stretch marks to look better, these treatments can temporarily plump up the skin,” says Dr. Lisa Kellett, a dermatologist at DLK on Avenue in Toronto. And what about all those creams on the market? “No stretch-mark cream gets rid of stretch marks,” says Kellett. “But they might temporarily reduce their appearance.” A prescription-strength vitamin-A cream, however, may help improve scarring. “It’s the only thing that’s been shown to actually cause collagen regeneration in the skin,” she says. But the jury’s out on whether it’s safe to use during pregnancy. Err on the side of caution and check with your doctor.

Most importantly, when it comes to treating stretch marks, it’s best to have realistic expectations. “It’s not like a tattoo; we can’t guarantee it’s going to be gone,” says Kellett. “It’s a matter of saying: ‘I’m always going have it, how can we make it look better?’”

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