Those unflattering streaks known as stretch marks show up when fat expansion takes place faster than skin expansion does. Here’s how to prevent and treat them, reports
if you scratch or hurt your skin, it may not heal well and a scar forms, going from red to white. Depending on the health of your skin, the whitish mark may fade with time. But sometimes, it stays that way.
A similar idea applies to stretch marks, also known as striae. “They are tears in the skin as a result of the skin being stretched during pregnancy or a bout of rapid weight gain,” Dr Joyce Lim, dermatologist at Joyce Lim Skin and Laser Clinic, says. She adds that “new” stretch marks are red or purple as they are fresh scars but turn white when they settle into skin and become more mature.
The doctors and body care specialists we spoke with for this story all agreed that the initial red or purple streaks are easier to treat. Says Dr Karen Soh, medical director of Privé Clinic: “As soon as fresh red stretch marks develop, one should treat them immediately.”
So, how does skin get “injured” so much that stretch marks form as a response mechanism? First, there’s the common culprit of weight
fluctuation, especially one that happens rapidly during pregnancy or a puberty growth spurt.
“When weight gain is sudden, fat expansion is faster than skin expansion, especially on the tummy, back of thighs and buttocks (where stretch marks are often seen). This results in the collapsing of support within the skin and the formation of striae,” says Dr Wong Kee Seng, medical director of Kowayo Aesthetic Clinic.
Dr Sabine Leone, co-founder of French medi-spa Estheclinic, explains that those undergoing medical treatments that cause cortisone levels to be raised are more prone to getting stretch marks. For instance, some people need cortisone shots to relieve pain and inflammation in joints.
“An increase in cortisone levels can increase the probability or severity of stretch marks because the fibroblasts are prevented from forming collagen and elastin fibres,” she says. “By creating a lack of supportive material as the skin is stretched, there will be dermal and epidermal tearing, which in turn can cause scarring or stretch marks.”
According to Dr Lim, rare skin conditions such as Marfan’s syndrome and Ehlers-danlos syndrome can also cause the patient’s collagen and elastic tissues to form abnormally. Dr Wong adds that another uncommon factor is a tumour in the adrenal gland.
Privé Clinic’s Dr Soh says genetics can play a role too and so can skin type. “Some of us have more elastic skin than others. It is also not advisable to embark on a sudden physical activity after a period of inactivity as doing so can cause the skin to stretch.”
Keeping skin strong
Once stretch marks become white, they are harder or impossible to treat. Prevention is the best, which is why Dr Soh advises having a diet rich in vitamins E and C, zinc and silica, which are said to help form collagen in skin. She also suggests drinking about two litres of water a day to strengthen and renew skin.
“Collagen and elastin fibres are necessary to keep rapidly growing skin taut. The stronger these fibres are, the less likely they are to ‘break’ and leave stretch marks. Throughout pregnancy, one’s best defence against them is to make sure skin maintains its maximum elasticity, which is achieved by keeping it well-hydrated and supple at all times,” she explains.
The easiest way to do this, it seems, is to slather on copious amounts of body moisturiser, especially when one is expecting. In fact, modelhost Chrissy Teigen was reported to have used La Mer The Concentrate during her recent pregnancy and found it efficient in preventing stretch marks. A check with the brand, for which she is a spokesperson of, revealed the product is said to help strengthen and protect the skin’s barrier, while also stimulating its renewal.
In terms of in-clinic treatments, Estheclinic’s Dr Leone says the CO2 laser is one of the oldest technologies used. However, it can cause bruising and require downtime, and is not suitable for darker skin tones. She adds the latest procedure is the non-invasive and painless LED photomodulation, which is believed to stimulate superficial circulation, reduce flaccidity in skin tone and soften and flatten stretch marks. This is combined with a radiofrequency treatment to tighten, firm up and smoothen out skin. The two procedures, which cost about $200 to $300 per session depending on the area targeted, are used in her medi-spa’s Smooth Beginnings Stretch Mark Treatment. About 10 to 15 sessions are recommended for best results.
Dr Soh says besides consulting your doctor on CO2 laser treatments and radiofrequency ones such as Thermage CPT, chemical peels can be included to even out the discolouration on stretch marks. The acid used is said to penetrate skin layers to renew skin cells and encourage further collagen and elastin growth.