Purplish “tiger stripes” that fade to silvery white over time.
Stretch marks occur as a result of the body growing faster than the covering skin, causing the dermis (the middle layer of the skin) to tear. Often found on the abdomen, breasts, upper arms and thighs, they are most commonly caused as a result of pregnancy, sudden growth spurts (for example during puberty), weight gain and certain medications and health conditions.
If you know that your skin is at risk of tearing, cosmetic doctor Dr Vicky Dondos of Medicetics recommends regular massage 3-4 times daily with products containing shea butter, cocoa butter or gotu kola such as Belli Elasticity Belly Oil, £35 (www.thelittlepeartree.com). We love Clarins Tonic Body Treatment Oil, £37 (www.clarins.co.uk), used especially during pregnancy in order to keep those racing stripes at bay.
The earlier stretch marks are treated, the better the results. However, unfortunately no treatments are completely successful.
On the shelf
One of our favourite skin-repairing products is Heal Gel, £33.50 (www.victoriahealth.com), which was formulated by no fewer than five leading British plastic and cosmetic surgeons to create a product packed full of skin-healing goodies. Another tried-and-tested favourite is Bio Oil, £14.99 (www.boots.com) which GTG can confirm has done wonders to fade our stretch marks and sinks into the skin really easily too. When applied correctly and regularly, you can expect to see good results, provided you're patient and realistic in your expectations. None of these products will remove the marks entirely, but they will go some way to diminishing their appearance.
The best make-up out there to cover stretch marks can be found courtesy of Cover FX Cream Foundation, £37 (www.houseoffraser.co.uk), Keromask Camouflage Cream, £14.99 (www.keromask.com) and Veil Cover Cream, £23 (www.veilcovercream.com). All come in a wide range of colours and offer intense coverage.
Over the counter
Dr Vicky Dondos recommends using products that stimulate collagen synthesis. When looking for over-the-counter products, you should look for ones containing:
1. Glycolic acid, such as NeoStrata Ultra Smoothing Lotion, £34 (available at Medicetics 020 7402 2033)
2. Retinols, such as Philosophy Help Me Retinol Night Treatment, £38 (www.philosophyskincare.co.uk)
3. Vitamin C, such as SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic, £129 (www.skinceuticals.co.uk)¨. She also recommends products that contain retinoids (0.1% tretinoin cream) which are particularly effective when combined with glycolic acid.
Vicky recommends using these every night for at least three months before assessing results and says you can expect to see up to a 20 per cent improvement in the appearance of your stripes when used consistently. However, these are available by prescription only and shouldn't be used if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
Dr Vicky Dondos recommends the following treatments:
Vascular lasers or Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) can be effective, but only in the very early stages of stretch mark formation. Vascular lasers work by delivering light energy at a wavelength which specifically targets the affected area. This is absorbed and then converted to heat energy, causing damage to the skin cells. The resulting healing process then leads to the stretch mark eventually fading. IPL works in much the same way, except that a spectrum of different wavelengths are used instead.
The basic premise of other treatments is to also trigger a restorative healing process, generating new collagen and elastin production. These include:
Skin peels Vicky recommends 3-4 treatments in order to see optimum results, using for example 70% glycolic acid on skin prepared with a minimum of 2 weeks nightly application of tretinoin.
Dermapen Also known as "Collagen Induction Therapy" (CIT), this is a micro-needling treatment that activates the cascade of fibroblasts and the release of growth hormones which encourage the production of new skin.
Palomar Lux1540 A fractional non-ablative skin resurfacing laser, this is the first FDA-approved treatment for stretch marks. It delivers high-precision microbeams to create deep, narrow columns of heat-damage in the skin. This stimulates a healing process that involves the deposition of new collagen.
Another treatment on GTG’s radar is the Strawberry Laser Stretch Mark Treatment, from £100 per treatment (for your nearest salon call 0844 980 1820), a procedure that claims to minimise stretch marks by up to 80 per cent. A deep exfoliation is followed by the use of cold red laser paddles on your stretch marks, aiming to reduce pigmentation, improve the elasticity of the skin and increase cell turnover. Eight treatments are usually recommended in total and the whole process is virtually pain-free too.
IPL, skin peels and Dermapen are all available at Medicetics. To book a consultation, call 0203 432 9359 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Palomar Lux1540 is available at Woodford Medical Aesthetics. To book an appointment, call 0845 602 1161