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Dr Nomphelo Gantsho discusses the cause, effect and various treatment modalities of two of the most common, yet harmless, skin bugbears that trouble her female patients.
Stretch Marks Uncovered
Stretch marks (striae) are indented streaks that often appear on the abdomen, breasts, upper arms, hips, buttocks and thighs. They develop when your body grows faster than your skin can keep up with, causing the elastic fibres just under the surface of the skin to break.
Their severity is affected by several factors, including your genetic tendencies, the degree of stress on your skin, as well as your cortisone levels. Cortisone hormones weaken elastic fibres in the skin, while some medications (i.e., corticosteroids) used over a long period of time can result in one’s skin presenting with stretch marks.
What increases your chances of getting stretch marks?
Anyone is susceptible to stretch marks, but there are some factors that increase your likelihood of getting them.
- Being female, pregnant or overweight
- Having rapid weight fluctuations
- Breast enlargement surgery, or a history of stretch marks
- Using corticosteroids
Furthermore, having Cushing’s syndrome, Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or certain adrenal gland disorders can cause stretch marks by increasing the amount of cortisone in your body.
What do they look like?
Stretch marks don’t all look alike. They vary depending on how long you’ve had them, what caused them, where they are on your body, and the type of skin you have.
There are, however, common variations in their appearance:
- Indented streaks or lines in the skin
- Pink, red, black, blue or purple streaks
- Bright streaks that fade to a lighter colour
- Streaks on the abdomen, breasts, hips, buttocks or thighs
- Streaks covering large areas of the body
Are there any psychological effects?
For instance, can stretch marks negatively impact one’s self-confidence? Absolutely. In fact, most patients concerned about their visible stretch marks often present with low-esteem and self-confidence issues as well.
What is the reasoning behind this?
One of the root causes of their insecurities can be largely attributed to their unrealistic views on what a body should look like. This often stems from the patient comparing their appearance to that of their favourite A-listers on social media. They are constantly looking at pictures of ‘perfect’ looking celebrities flaunting their toned bodies, glowing complexions and super smooth, blemish-free skin – where they then look at themselves and wonder why they don’t measure up.
It also makes people think there is something wrong with them, as all these celebs and supermodels appear not to have a stretch mark in sight (which they naturally cannot relate to).
Yet sadly, we tend to forget that the vast majority of these images have all been filtered and heavily edited: so in reality, these models and celebs look nowhere near as flawless as they do.
The emotionally vulnerable
Patients who have the strongest negative emotions about their stretch marks are usually teenage girls or young mothers. Teens are often embarrassed to wear short skirts and cropped tops as they fear being ridiculed by their peers. Similarly, new mothers no longer feel sexy or attractive right after having their baby due to the significant change to their body.
Can stretch marks be treated?
Amongst all the available treatments for stretch marks, there is not one particular procedure that has been scientifically proven to be more successful than others. Most notably, treatments can only assist with the fading of stretch marks. It can’t completely remove them.
What are the treatment options?
With everything considered, if your stretch marks are still a cause for concern, there are a number of treatments that can be tried.
Below are a few potentials worth exploring, including a caveat here and there:
- This topical cream may improve the appearance of stretch marks that are less than a few months old.
- Retinoid, when it works, helps to rebuild collagen – ultimately making the stretch marks look more like your normal skin.
- Retinoid may irritate your skin.
- Its use is contraindicated in pregnancy.
- The next approach is laser therapy (excimer laser and pulsed dye laser). A variety of light and laser therapies are available to help stimulate the growth of collagen or elastin in your skin.
- Treatments are not only very costly, but they also carry the risk of not achieving the desired end result.
- This modality involves a hand-held device with needles that causes trauma to the skin, thus promoting the growth of new collagen and elastin.
- Of course, by its nature, the procedure can be painful and uncomfortable.
- Then there is microdermabrasion, a procedure that involves a hand-held device that blows crystals onto the skin. These crystals gently remove a fine layer of the dermis, promoting the growth of new skin with greater elasticity.
- Again, this procedure may be painful and can actually cause scarring if used in the wrong hands.
Outside the realm of medical treatment modalities, there are some steps that can be taken to hopefully mitigate the impact of stretch marks. Moisturising your skin may help to relieve the itchiness while applying some self-tanning lotion to your stretch marks is a temporary way to minimise the colour difference.
Can you prevent stretch marks?
Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee the prevention of stretch marks – even with the use of lotions and creams.
That said, however…
If your stretch marks are making you feel self-conscious, just remember that lots of people have them. They’re a sign of the road your body has walked – a sign of change and progress – and that is something to be proud of.
Cellulite is a general term used to describe the dimpled and uneven appearance of skin caused by fat deposits lying just below the surface. It is extremely common amongst adult women – presenting around 85% of females age 21 years and up. It also appears in almost all women after puberty.
The thighs, hips and buttocks are the usual problem areas where cellulite rears its head, but the abdomen, breasts and upper arms are other potential sites as well.
Cause and effect
There are numerous factors that influence the appearance of cellulite. Some women are simply more predisposed to it than others by virtue of their genetics. Skin thickness also plays a role – with thinner skin being more prone to visible cellulite. In this instance, age often is an accompanying factor, as our skin tends to become thinner as the years go by.
Can you get rid of cellulite?
As is the case of stretch marks, cellulite cannot be completely eradicated – but the good news is that its appearance can be visibly reduced by using the following treatment modalities:
Using a foam roller and stretching more often
This helps relax your muscle fascia. Once loosened up, these muscle fibres allow nutrient-rich blood to circulate through them – which, in turn – assists the body in getting rid of its toxins while increasing resting metabolic rate and the breaking up of fatty tissue.
Eating more fruits and vegetables
Papaya and mango, in particular, have been shown to help prevent and reduce tissue damage due to the high content of antioxidants. Vegetables rich in vitamin A may also aid in boosting collagen production in the human body.
People of all sizes can have cellulite. But if you’re overweight, the most effective treatment is to shed some kilos and tone your body. Eating less and adding more cardio and strength training exercises – with a focus on your legs, hips and backside – will help. Strong, defined muscles under a thinner fat layer will make your skin smoother and less puckered.
Lotions and creams
There are a variety of creams on the market that claim to reduce cellulite. Many have ingredients intended to promote fat breakdown (e.g., caffeine, aminophylline, theophylline), while others contain vitamins, minerals and herbal extracts. Generally, these products alone offer little benefit but may add some value when combined with other treatments.
Low-energy version of shockwave therapy
Commonly used to treat kidney stones, this non-invasive treatment is performed twice a week for at least six weeks. This may offer results for between two and six months, but more research about how well it works and how long results may last is needed before we can proclaim this a short-term silver bullet.
Another potential modality is cryo lipolysis, a non-invasive procedure that freezes and kills fat cells. Once these fat cells are dead, your body removes them naturally. While this treatment is usually used for body shaping, fat removal can also improve your cellulite. You may need to undergo three treatments over three or four months to see results.
Also called radiofrequency systems, laser treatments show promise in reducing the appearance of cellulite. Treatment usually mixes massage, liposuction, or light therapy. It can liquefy fat, cut connective tissue to loosen puckering, boost collagen growth and skin tightening, increase blood flow, and lessen fluid retention. Expect results to last at least six months.
The results of this minimally invasive procedure have been shown to last for at least two years. The treatment entails the doctor marking the culprit area, injecting a numbing solution, and then inserting a tiny blade to cut the connective tissue that holds your fat onto those dimples.
It’s important to keep in mind that a huge majority of women have at least one of these conditions, so you’re never alone on that front. It is likewise worth remembering the procedures that are now being offered in treating an array of other concerns patients have. With all this in mind, perhaps we can finally put these two body skin bugbears to bed once and for all.
Written by Dr Nomphelo Gantsho
BSc, BSc (Hons), MSc (Pret), MBCHB
- Fellowship: College of Medicine of South Africa (Dermatology)
- Dermatologist in private practice, with rooms in Century City, Cape Town www.capeskindoctor.com
- Executive Committee Member of SASDS, Secretary www.sasds.co.za
- Member of DSSA www.derma.co.za
- Member of AWDS
- Member of DASIL www.thedasil.org
A2 Disclaimer: This article is published for information purposes only, nor should it be regarded as a replacement for sound medical advice.
This article was written by Dr Nomphelo Gantsho and edited by the A2 team EXCLUSIVELY for the A2 Aesthetic & Anti-Ageing Magazine Autumn 2021 Edition (Issue 36 – Mar 2021 to Jun 2021).
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