National report — Short of surgery to remove stretch-mark riddled skin, nothing that physicians can offer patients will noticeably diminish those unsightly lines.
Stretch marks are tears in the dermis, says Scott Greenberg, M.D., F.A.C.S., clinical assistant professor, department of surgery, Florida State University College of Medicine, Orlando.
They are the result of some force elongating the skin over time, while during that time the skin thins and loses its elasticity, Dr. Greenberg tells Cosmetic Surgery Times."There is no ointment or topical therapy that can regenerate that elastic component in the skin to such a great degree that it would rejuvenate a stretch mark," says Robert X. Murphy Jr., M.D., professor of clinical surgery at Penn State University and attending plastic surgeon at Lehigh Valley Hospital, Allentown, Pa.
Patients who most commonly complain about stretch marks are women who have had surgical or natural massive weight loss, or have developed the marks after pregnancy, Dr. Murphy says.
Topical fluff Topical agents marketed as stretch mark cures are largely ineffective, according to Dr. Murphy.
Dr. Greenberg is not comfortable offering patients laser or intense pulsed light treatments because of their unpredictable and inconsistent results in treating stretch marks.
Body wraps and Endermologie, according to Dr. Murphy, can improve the marks to a degree but do not eliminate the visual stigmata, nor are they powerful enough to really cause enough contraction to alter the stretch marks.
Dr. Greenberg says that some scientific studies have indicated that the combination treatment with Retin-A, glycolic acid and topical vitamin C has shown some positive effect on the skin tears.
"Those are things that have been demonstrated to help thicken the skin, stimulate new collagen formation, and, if you will, repair this tear," he says.
When using that approach, Dr. Greenberg and his staff usually first perform microdermabrasion to remove surface debris. Then they start patients on a weekly or every-other-week regimen of in-office glycolic acid peels applied to the area, and daily at-home treatments with Retin-A applied nightly and topical vitamin C applied in the morning.
"The topicals should be applied separately to avoid stinging," he says. "It takes four to six weeks before patients see subtle improvements."
Otherwise, Dr. Greenberg says, for stretch marks on the abdomen, performing an abdominoplasty may be an option.
Dr. Murphy says he does not know of any promising new products in the area of stretch mark treatment.