Stretch marks are among the most common skin conditions. They affect both women and men and can happen in times of rapid growth, weight gain, and weight loss. While not dangerous, stretch marks often cause embarrassment and a sense of inadequacy in those who have them.
Over the years, numerous treatments and therapies for stretch marks have appeared though none of them managed to remove them completely.
However, along with surgery, laser treatments have shown the most promising results thus far. They are very expensive and can last up to several months. But, is laser stretch mark removal worth it? Read on for an in-depth analysis.
Stretch Marks 101
Stretch marks, also referred to as striae, are a type of scarring, colored differently than the normal skin around them. Striae can be red or purple in the early stages. Over time, however, they lose pigmentation and turn white. They form in the dermis, the middle layer of the skin. Experts agree that once formed, stretch marks can’t be completely removed.
Stretch marks usually appear in places where there are large amounts of fat. This means, abdomen, upper arms, thighs, underarms, back, breasts, buttocks, and hips are commonly affected.
Striae can happen during times of intensive growth, such as puberty and pregnancy. Bodybuilders and people who gain or lose large amounts of weight over a short period of time can also develop stretch marks. Finally, though more prevalent in women, stretch marks affect men, as well.
Laser treatment is one of the popular ways of treating stretch marks. It consists of removing the marks through laser resurfacing of the skin. In a nutshell, it removes the skin’s outer layer to help it restructure its surface. The procedure involves treating the affected skin with concentrated light beams that are supposed to spur the growth of new, healthy skin.
It should be noted that laser treatment, similar to other treatments, can’t remove stretch marks completely. It can only treat them and diminish them to an extent. The treatment can also make them smoother and less visible.
Laser treatment doesn’t involve cuts, therefore it is non-invasive. You will need less time to recover from a laser treatment than a surgical operation. Typically, you should be able to return to your daily duties in a matter of days.
Types of Laser Treatment
At the time of this writing, there are two main types of laser treatment – non-ablative and ablative.
The former (which includes Fraxel and Alexandrite) is not used to destroy the top layer of skin. It is, instead, used to stimulate the underlying layers of skin to start making increased amounts of collagen.
On the other hand, ablative laser treatments (Erbium YAG, CO2) destroy the top layer of skin in order to make room for a new top layer to emerge. The new skin would be smoother, both in appearance and in texture. Like the non-ablative, ablative laser treatments are only partially successful.
Duration of the Treatment
Ablative laser treatments can last up to 90 minutes, while the non-ablative types are typically half an hour long. Aside from the time under the laser, you should also account for the preparation time and paperwork.
After a session, the treated areas might become pink. This is a regular side effect, commonly associated with all types of laser stretch mark removal. If you opt for an ablative laser treatment, you can expect discomfort and raw skin in the treated areas. Also, expect the skin to scab after some time. It should be noted that non-ablative lasers take more time to show results.
If you’re getting laser treatment, you should take that day off. In case it is an ablative procedure, consider taking several days off.
Usually, it will take multiple sessions to achieve the desired result, regardless of the type of laser treatment you choose. The prices for both ablative and non-ablative laser treatment are commonly in the four-figure region, though the former may be twice as expensive.
Also, you should account for additional expenses. These can include, but are not limited to, costs of laboratory tests, consultation and office fees, anesthetics, and pain remedies (should you need them after the treatment).
Considering the possibility of multiple sessions and additional expenses, the total cost of a laser stretch mark removal treatment can easily surpass the $10,000 mark.
You should also be aware that removing stretch marks via laser treatments is considered an aesthetic/cosmetic procedure. Therefore, it is not covered by health insurance. Laser therapy can only be covered if it is medically necessary.
Surgery, microneedling, and microdermabrasion are alternative methods to laser treatment. They offer varying degrees of success. However, none of them can remove stretch marks completely. Here’s a quick overview of each method.
Surgery is an invasive way to treat stretch marks. It usually involves only one intervention and is an expensive way to go about it. Prices vary, depending on the treated area. The total cost of multiple laser treatments can easily be higher than that of surgery. However, surgery may be more effective than laser treatments.
If you opt for surgery, you should also account for anesthetics and hospital fees. Recovery time depends largely on your age, body weight, and overall health. You might experience intense pain for days following the surgery, while the swellings can last up to several months.
Microneedling is a non-invasive procedure that uses tiny needles on a roller to prick your skin in the areas affected by stretch marks. It is substantially more affordable than laser treatments. The downside is that it is far less effective than laser treatments or surgery. If you’re pregnant, this method is not advised.
While not technically invasive, microdermabrasion includes peeling off the surface layer of your skin with a special applicator. Alternatively, sodium bicarbonate or aluminum oxide sprays might be used in combination with a suction machine. This is the most affordable alternative to laser treatments, but it only brings short-term results.
Stretch marks can’t be removed completely, though some treatments can considerably reduce the lesions. Laser treatments are among the most effective as well as the most expensive and time-consuming. As opposed to some other non-invasive treatments, they offer long-term results.
However, the question remains – is laser stretch mark removal worth it? The answer to this question depends on your willingness to go through multiple laser treatments, pay the high treatment fees, and endure the post-treatment pain.