Dr. Andrew Ordon explains why we get stretch marks and how to treat them.
It is common to think that stretch marks are solely associated with women and pregnancies; however they are a common occurrence for men as well. When you break it down, a stretch mark is essentially a scar. When the skin is pulled in an abrupt fashion, it causes the dermis, the deeper layer of skin between the epidermis and subcutaneous tissues, to tear. As the dermis heals, scar tissue is formed, leaving a narrow furrow also known as stria. What one outwardly sees is the skin shrinking in some places and leaving a depressed area with heaped borders. These indentions are common on the lower portion of a woman’s abdomen, most commonly
after pregnancy. Stretch marks often appear on the abdomen, breasts, hips, buttocks and thighs due to changes or growth spurts of some sort. A few examples besides pregnancy include body builders who lose muscle mass or people who experience rapid, extreme weight loss.
There are preventative measures you can use to combat these unsightly marks, though. First and foremost, people should try not to have their weight fluctuate too rapidly or drastically. Expecting mothers should stick to their doctor’s recommendation. Maintaining good skin tone, exercising frequently and keeping the skin moisturized is essential and can also help with the skin’s elasticity. Common products such as cocoa butter, lanoline and vitamin E can
help keep the skin supple and allow stretching with a lesser chance of scarring or tearing.
New stretch marks can have a vascular component to them. You will notice these marks look a little different; they may have a blue, purple or red tint. These may respond to vascular laser treatment, and if you seek it early, their appearance can be drastically reduced. When a stretch mark is mature, for example extreme stretch marks on the abdomen post-pregnancy, a great option for reducing appearance is an abdominoplasty, or tummy tuck. This procedure actually removes the abdominal skin where the stretch marks are the most apparent and then it is pulled and tightened, often completely removing the marks.
A Fractional CO2 laser has also been shown to improve the look of mature stretch marks. Most licensed and board-certified dermatologists and plastic surgeons have these lasers available in their offices.
Remember, stretch marks are not only an issue for women, and because of genetics, we cannot always prevent them. But, smart practices such as weight control and keeping the skin moisturized will allow you to combat them more easily.
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Dr. Andrew Ordon is a board-certified surgeon in the areas of aesthetic, plastic and reconstructive surgery and co-host of the Emmy®-nominated syndicated series, The Doctors. He is a proud, founding member of the Surgical Friends Foundation that offers complimentary reconstructive surgery around the world to those who cannot afford medical treatment. Many of these patients suffer from birth defects, physical abuse and burns, among other adverse conditions.